New research is being conducted as university researchers lead a collaborative effort between 10 universities. The researchers are hoping that the results of the study will be used to better understand human conditions like degenerative eye disease, albinism and sleep disorders. Image is of a blind cave fish.- MDA
By Haley Madderom
November 10, 2014
University researchers led a collaborative effort between 10 universities.

An international team of researchers hopes to use its study on a species of translucent, eyeless cave fish to better understand human conditions like degenerative eye diseases, albinism and sleep disorders.
The first-ever genomic sequence of the blind cave fish species, and the resulting study published late last month, provides context for a field of research where knowing species’ exact genetic makeup is valuable.
Researchers say the most distinctive trait highlighted in the study — which is the complex genetics of eye degeneration — could have major implications for humans,  like helping with the development of gene therapies for patients with retinitis or macular degeneration.
Geneticists have long been fascinated by Astyanax mexicanus because populations of the blind cave fish species vary greatly between water surface and cave populations — the latter of which has independently evolved traits of blindness and lack of pigment, said Suzanne McGaugh, the study’s lead researcher and an ecology, evolution, and behavior associate professor.
“It’s really powerful to have a very closely related relative that you can compare sequenced DNA to and say what’s different between these two [types of populations],” she said.
McGaugh said the work was not aimed at developing potential therapies for particular human ailments. Instead, researchers located specific genes that affect traits related to various diseases to bolster continuing medical and evolutionary research.
In particular, they focused on the genetics behind retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal disease that leads to tunnel vision and night blindness, as well as total blindness in severe cases.
To counteract the human disease, specialized gene therapies would have to address the more than 80 different genes associated with the illness, some of which have not been located yet, said ophthalmology assistant professor Sandra Montezuma.
Ophthalmology assistant professor Dara Koozekanani, who was not a part of the international effort, said the cave fish study could play a pivotal role in eye disease research……
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Source: Minnesota Daily