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Multi-tissue methylation clocks for age estimation in the common bottlenose dolphin

By Todd R. Robeck, Zhe Fei, Amin Haghani, Joseph Alan Zoller, Caesar Z Li, Karen Steinman, Stacy DiRocco, Lydia Staggs, Todd Schmitt, Steve Osborn, Gisele Montano, Magdalena Rodriguez, Steve Horvath

Posted 04 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.03.442523

Accurate identification of individual ages within wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) is critical for determining population health and the development of population management strategies. As such, we analyzed DNA methylation patterns by applying a custom methylation array (HorvathMammalMethyl40) to both blood (n = 140) and skin samples (n = 87) from known age or approximate age (0 to 57 years) bottlenose dolphins. We present three bottlenose dolphin specific age estimation clocks using combined blood and skin (48 CpGs, R = 0.93, median absolute error = 2.13 years), blood only (64 CpGs, R = 0.97, error= 1.46 years) and skin only (39 CpGs, R = 0.95, error= 2.53). Our sex estimator based on 71 CpGs predicts the sex of any odontocete species with 99.5% accuracy. We characterize individual cytosines that correlate with sex and age in dolphins. The presented epigenetic clocks are expected to be useful for conservation efforts and for studying anthropogenic events.

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