Le Duc D, Velluva A, Cassatt-Johnstone M, Olsen R, Baleka S, Lin C, Lemke JR, Southon JR, Burdin A, Wang M, Grunewald S, Rosendahl W, Joger U, Rutschmann S, Hildebrandt TB, Fritsch G, Estes JA, Kelso J, Dalén L, Hofreiter M, Shapiro B, Schöneberg T
Sci Adv 8 (5) eabl6496 [2022-02-04; online 2022-02-04]
Steller's sea cow, an extinct sirenian and one of the largest Quaternary mammals, was described by Georg Steller in 1741 and eradicated by humans within 27 years. Here, we complement Steller's descriptions with paleogenomic data from 12 individuals. We identified convergent evolution between Steller's sea cow and cetaceans but not extant sirenians, suggesting a role of several genes in adaptation to cold aquatic (or marine) environments. Among these are inactivations of lipoxygenase genes, which in humans and mouse models cause ichthyosis, a skin disease characterized by a thick, hyperkeratotic epidermis that recapitulates Steller's sea cows' reportedly bark-like skin. We also found that Steller's sea cows' abundance was continuously declining for tens of thousands of years before their description, implying that environmental changes also contributed to their extinction.