TOKYO, September 11 – Call it a shocking discovery: DNA research has uncovered two brand new types of electric eel in the Amazon, including one capable of providing a record boost.
The findings are evidence, according to researchers, of the incredible diversity in the Amazon rainforest – much of which is not yet known in science – and illustrate why it is so important to protect the habitat at risk of deforestation, logging and fires.
"Despite all the human impact on the Amazon rainforest over the last 50 years, we can still find giant fish as two new species of electric eel," says lead researcher C. David de Santana, a zoologist working with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History .
A study "shows that a huge number of species are waiting to be found in the Amazon rainforest, many of which can prepare diseases for disease or inspire technological innovation," he told AFP.
The electric eel, in fact a species of fish and not an eel, inspired the design of the first electric battery.
For centuries, it was believed that there was a single species known in the region, known as the Greater Amazon, spanning parts of countries, including Brazil, Suriname and Guyana.
But as part of a project to better understand electric eels and wildlife mapping in remote parts of South America, de Santana and his team decided to try this conventional wisdom.
At first glance, they found little visible difference between creatures collected from different parts of the Amazon basin, suggesting that the fish were indeed part of one species.
But further analysis, including the DNA of the 107 samples they collected, broke down centuries on f assumptions and revealed three different species: the previously known Electrophorus electricus, together with Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii.
And their research also revealed another stunning result: E. voltai is able to deliver an oscillation of 860 volts – well over 650 volts recorded earlier than electric eels, "making it the most powerful bioelectricity generator famous".
The findings published yesterday in Nature Communications theorize that the three species evolved from a shared precursor millions of years ago.
Researchers found that each of the three species has a clearly defined habitat, with E. electricus living in the Guiana Shield, E. voltai in the Brazilian Shield, highland region to the south, and E. varia inhabiting slowly flowing lowland waters of the basin. on the Amazon.
And they suggest that a particularly strong electric shock t E. voltai can lead to adaptation to life in high mountain waters, where conductivity is less effective.
Electric eels use their striking tactics for various reasons, including hunting prey, self defense and navigation.  They generate electricity from three specialized electrical bodies that can emit charges of different strengths for different purposes.
But the discovery of the new species raises the possibility that different types of eels may have evolved in different ways to produce electricity, perhaps more appropriate.
De Santana hopes to compare the genomes of the three species, looking for clues that could provide useful information for different areas.
"The physiology of the electric eel inspired the design of Volta's first electric battery, provided the basis … for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, and recently promoted the progress of hydrogel batteries that could be used to power medical implants,"
The newly discovered species may reveal a "hidden diversity" of functions "of interest to the broad scientific community." – AFP