Genetics of Russia revealed a secret kinship «Elektrogorsk» fish

© Sergei Cherenkovanija Pollimyrus petherici whose genome was studied by Russian scientistsGenetics of Russia revealed a secret kinship «Elektrogorsk» fish© Sergey Cherenkov

Russian scientists have found that one of the most unusual African fish-elephants, «talking» with other people, with the help of electrical charges, is not representative of the kind to which it took scientists almost half a century, says the article published in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.

«These fish are learning for a long time, and in our country there is a great school for the study of electrocommunication at the Institute of ecology and evolution Russian Academy of Sciences. However, Russia still has not carried out genetic studies of these fish, but without the genetics quite difficult to identify a species and understand what it’s for,» says Boris Levin from the Institute of biology of inland waters Russian Academy of Sciences.

The so-called fish-elephants (Mormyridae), one of the most unusual inhabitants of rivers and lakes, widely distributed in freshwater ponds in tropical parts of West and East Africa. These fish have two unusual characteristics – a kind of proboscis, with which they search for food in the sediments of mud at the bottom, as well as the ability to produce electricity.

The current pulses help them to navigate, search for food, communicate with neighbors and to identify «outsiders» belonging to another «family» group of organisms within the same species. Russian and foreign scientists are actively studying these fish, trying to figure out how they learned to «speak» with the help of electricity and to reveal the history of their evolution.

Levin and his colleague Alexander Golubtsov suddenly found a serious error in the classification of these unusual fish, studying the structure of DNA and small mutations in this fish species Pollimyrus petherici that live in the rivers and lakes of Ethiopia. To study these fishes in their habitat was sent a team of scientists, supported by the Russian science Foundation and the Joint Russian-Ethiopian biological expedition.

This type of fish, as noted by genetics, very similar in appearance to other elephants that live in East Africa and belonging to the genus Pollimyrus. This impression was deceptive – the DNA of mitochondria, the cellular «power plants» showed that Pollimyrus petherici from a genetic point of view much closer to «Western» genus of these fishes, Cyphomyrus, whose representatives live in the Congo basin.

Opening Golubtsova and Levin greatly «expands» the range of this kind: it was previously thought that the genus is found only in West Africa and the lake Victoria basin, and now the area of its distribution also includes the Nile basin and lake Turkana. This discovery, as scientists hope will help reveal the mysteries of the evolution of these unusual freshwater fish.