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Comp Biochem Physiol Part D Genomics Proteomics. 2019 Jun;30:25-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cbd.2019.02.004. Epub 2019 Feb 10.

1H NMR metabolomic analysis of skin and blubber of bottlenose dolphins reveals a functional metabolic dichotomy.

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Center for Precision Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Molecular Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem 27157, NC, USA.
Departamento de Recursos del Mar, Cinvestav Unidad Mérida, Mérida, Yucatán 97310, Mexico.
Departamento de Recursos del Mar, Cinvestav Unidad Mérida, Mérida, Yucatán 97310, Mexico; Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT), Mexico.
Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Campus de Ciencias Biológicas y Agropecuarias, 97100 Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico.
Departamento de Recursos del Mar, Cinvestav Unidad Mérida, Mérida, Yucatán 97310, Mexico; Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT), Mexico. Electronic address:


The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is a carnivorous cetacean that thrives in marine environments, one of the apex predators of the marine food web. They are found in coastal and estuarine ecosystems, which are known to be sensitive to environmental impacts. Dolphins are considered sentinel organisms for monitoring the health of coastal marine ecosystems due to their role as predators that can bioaccumulate contaminants. Although recent studies have focused on capturing the circulating metabolomes of these mammals, and in the context of pollutants and exposures in the marine environment, skin and blubber are important surface and protective tissues that have not been adequately probed for metabolism. Using a proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H NMR) based metabolomics approach, we quantified 51 metabolites belonging to 74 different metabolic pathways in the skin and blubber of stranded bottlenose dolphin (n = 4) samples collected at different localities in the Southern Zone coast of Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Results indicate that metabolism of skin and blubber are quantitatively very different. These metabolite abundances could help discriminate the tissue-types using supervised partial least square regression discriminant analysis (PLSDA). Further, using hierarchical clustering analysis and random forest analysis of the metabolite abundances, the results pointed to unique metabolites that are important classifiers of the tissue-type. On one hand, the differential metabolic patterns, mainly linking fatty acid metabolism and ketogenic amino acids, seem to constitute a characteristic of blubber, thus pointing to fat synthesis and deposition. On the other hand, the skin showed several metabolites involved in gluconeogenic pathways, pointing towards an active anabolic energy-generating metabolism. The most notable pathways found in both tissues included: urea cycle, nucleotide metabolism, amino acid metabolism, glutathione metabolism among others. Our 1H NMR metabolomics analysis allowed the quantification of metabolites associated with these two organs, i.e., pyruvic acid, arginine, ornithine, 2-hydroxybutyric acid, 3-hydroxyisobutyric acid, and acetic acid, as discriminatory and classifying metabolites. These results would lead to further understanding of the functional and physiological roles of dolphin skin and blubber metabolism for better efforts in their conservation, as well as useful target biopsy tissues for monitoring of dolphin health conditions in marine pollution and ecotoxicology studies.


Blubber; Dolphin; Metabolomics; NMR; Pathways; Skin


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