Fishes (2023)

DOI: 10.3390/ fishes8120593


The Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis, YFP) is an endangered species endemic to the Yangtze River in China, and it is the only freshwater whale in the genus Neophocaena. In terms of protection, three effective conservation strategies exist: in situ conservation, ex situ conservation, and artificial breeding, all of which have been implemented by the Chinese government. Of these, ex situ conservation involves the relocation of Yangtze finless porpoises to semi-natural waters with less human interference, and artificial breeding involves the relocation of Yangtze finless porpoises to a controlled environment that is more strictly managed. To compare and analyze the responsive changes in gene expression of the YFPs between the ex situ and controlled environments, we performed the RNA sequencing of blood tissues from these YFPs. A total of 1201 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified, of which 423 were up-regulated in the ex situ population and 778 were up-regulated in the controlled-environment population. Gene enrichment analysis showed that 1201 DEGs between the ex situ and controlled-environment populations were generally enriched for vision-, digestion- and immune-system-related pathways. Further analysis revealed that several key immune system pathways, such as the chemokine signaling pathway and B cell receptor signal pathway, were activated in the ex situ population. In addition, the key pathways related to vision, including phototransduction and the inflammatory mediator regulation of TRP channels, as well as the pathways related to the digestive system, such as protein digestion and absorption and salivary secretion, were activated in the controlled-environment population. These results suggest that the ex situ populations may respond to complex environmental conditions in semi-natural waters by enhancing their immune function through the increased expression of immune-related genes and that the visual function and protein digestion of the YFPs were improved compared to those of the ex situ population based on the conditions of artificial feeding, such as the higher transparency of the water and regular feeding. This study provides clues for evaluating the adaptability of YFPs to different environments and is a useful reference for future ex situ conservation and artificial breeding.