Roses Are Red, Lobsters Are…?

This Valentine’s Day, Ocean Genome Legacy is saying “be mine” to some rare and colorful samples of New England’s favorite crustacean, the American lobster.

You know that cooked lobsters are bright red, and you may know that most live lobsters are greenish-black. But have you ever seen a lobster that’s blue, orange, or two-toned, with one color on the right and another on the left, split right down the middle?

Well, don’t feel bad if you haven’t, because these lobsters are very rare. Now, thanks to scientists at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center and the New England Aquarium, OGL has acquired samples from some of these rarest of lobsters.

 

LobstersComposite
Samples from these rare lobsters can help research on lobster health and conservation. Photo credit: NU MSC Outreach (top), Marissa McMahan (bottom).

Just how rare are they? Blue coloration is thought to occur in only 1 in 2 million lobsters. Two-toned specimens, like the half orange and half brown specimen recently obtained by OGL, are estimated to be even rarer, as in 1 in 50 million! That’s about the same chances as winning the lottery. But now scientists who want to study these lobsters won’t have to beat the odds—these unique samples are publicly available and safely preserved at OGL.

These colorful specimens can help scientists learn about lobster health and conservation. For example, they can learn whether these odd colors are due to genetic mutations, changes in diet, or exposure to infections, toxins, or other kinds of injuries during development. Mutations can also help scientists pinpoint the genes that control color in lobsters—an important adaptation because it helps lobsters to hide from predators.

Shell color can also have unexpected consequences for lobsters. For example, researchers at the New England Aquarium have found that, among other factors, shell color may be related to a lobster’s susceptibility to shell disease. Bacterial infection can eat away at a lobster’s shell, making it look too ugly for market. Finding the reasons for this susceptibility could help scientists better understand this disease. With the samples available at OGL, researchers can now explore new ways to understand and improve lobster health.

So it turns out that:

Lobsters are red,

And lobsters are blue,

And lobsters are green, brown, and orange, too!

Now that OGL is making these rare samples widely accessible, scientists can make new discoveries from lobsters of every color.

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