The Mediterranean population of the green sea turtle Chelonia mydas is critically endangered. Genetic analysis of this population using the ordinary haplotyping system, based on sequence analysis of a segment of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) D-loop (control region), revealed very little variation. The most common haplotype, CM-A13, was observed in all but three individuals in hundreds of samples in previous studies. In search for a more informative marker we sequenced the 3' of the mitochondrial control region which contains an AT-rich microsatellite. We found a unique pattern that consists of four AT short tandem repeats (STRs) with varying copy numbers. This allowed us to construct a new haplotyping system composed of four different STR sizes for each mtDNA sequence. Our new mitochondrial STR (mtSTR) haplotyping approach revealed 33 different haplotypes within the nesting and stranded sea turtles along the Mediterranean Israeli seashore. The Israeli coast nesting females had 10 different haplotypes that can be used for monitoring and conservation purposes. The mtSTR haplotyping system can clearly assist in fingerprinting of individual turtles. Moreover, it can be used for estimating phylogenetic distances within populations. This case study shows that the mtSTR haplotyping is applicable for the study of global green sea turtle populations and could also be considered as markers of genetic variability in other species.
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