Our goal is to use an integrative approach to understand the basic biology, ecology, and evolution of the European blind cave salamander Proteus anguinus.

Building on a long and rich history of research on Proteus in the Department of biology of the Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, our current work focuses on functional morphology, conservation biology, ecology, reproductive and developmental biology, symbiotic interactions, evolution and systematics.

We are investigating the structure and function of adaptations of Proteus to cave habitats in order to understand how the underground environment influenced the evolution of its morphology, physiology and behavior.

Proteus is endemic to the subterranean waters of the Dinaric Karst where it is threatened by pollution, fragmentation, and habitat destruction. We are developing effective approaches to monitor populations and habitat quality in order to provide a scientific background for adequate conservation measures.

Proteus encounters numerous microorganisms and a variety of parasites and other symbionts in its natural environment as well as opportunistic pathogens in captivity. Understanding the interactions between Proteus, its microbiome and parasites is crucial for the recognition of potential health threats to this amphibian.

Male and female Proteus cannot be distinguished from each other by external morphological criteria or even by sex chromosomes. We are developing other methods for sex identification and also investigating the process of gonad maturation in order to better understand the reproductive biology of Proteus. This work is essential for the establishment of a successful captive breeding program for developmental studies as well as conservation.

Proteus is separated from its closest relatives by tens of millions of years of evolution, and offers unique opportunities to study the patterns and processes of evolution. We are investigating the phylogeography, population genetics, and taxonomic subdivision of this enigmatic amphibian.

Holding promise of information essential for illumination of profound biological questions related to evolution, adaptations to cave environment and processes related to human well-being, the genome of proteus has been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. However, the information encoded in the genome remains unknown due to its enormous size; with estimated size of 50 Gbp, proteus genome surpass the size of human genome by 15 times and represents one of the largest known genomes in the animal kingdom.

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