Lead author Dr. Demian Chapman, shark scientist with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, Beth Firchau, Curator of Fishes for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, have proven through DNA testing that the offspring of a female blacktip shark named “Tidbit” contained no genetic material from a father. Tidbit had lived at the Virginia Aquarium in the Norfolk Canyon Aquarium for eight years since shortly after her birth in the wild.
In May 2007, Chapman and Shivji were part of a team that made the groundbreaking scientific discovery confirming -– for the first time ever -- a virgin birth in a female shark. That shark was a hammerhead residing at an Omaha, Nebraska zoo and had not been in contact with male sharks for at least three years. That study was published in the journal Biology Letters and captured global media and scientific attention. The DNA-fingerprinting techniques used to prove both cases of virgin birth (scientifically known as “parthenogenesis”) are identical to those used in human paternity testing.
“It is now clear that parthenogenesis occurs in sharks other than just hammerheads,” Chapman said. “The first case was no fluke. It is quite possible that this is something female sharks of many species can do on occasion.”
Sharks’ ability to reproduce alone should not be viewed as an adequate replacement for normal sexual reproduction, Chapman cautioned. For one, the blacktip and hammerhead sharks that reproduced without mating both only produced one pup, rather than an entire litter. Shark litters can contain anywhere from a few to more than a hundred shark pups, depending upon the species. “The revelation that female sharks can reproduce alone shouldn’t stop us from worrying about driving shark populations to very low levels through overfishing,” said Chapman. “It is very unlikely that a small number of female survivors could build their numbers up very quickly by undergoing virgin birth.”
The new paper is entitled “Parthenogenesis in a large-bodied requiem shark, the blacktip Carcharhinus limbatus.” Tidbit was an Atlantic blacktip shark whom Virginia Aquarium biologists believe had only just reached sexual maturity.
“We have never observed her in reproductive behavior or showing typical signs of having been bred,” said Firchau. Scientists did not even know that Tidbit was pregnant until after she unfortunately died and an autopsy (called a necropsy for animals) was performed. “Sadness turned to surprise during the necropsy when we found that she was pregnant,” Firchau said. “There were no male blacktips in the tank for the past eight years!”
The phenomenon of “virgin birth” occurs when a baby is conceived without male sperm having first fertilized the female’s eggs, and has been proven in some bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. In the type of parthenogenesis seen in these sharks, known as automictic parthenogenesis, the newly forming pup acquires one set of chromosomes when the mother's chromosomes split during egg development. But instead of uniting with similarly split chromosomes from sperm, as occurs in sexual reproduction, the mother’s set is paired with a copy of itself. This results in offspring of reduced genetic diversity who may be at a disadvantage for surviving in the wild.
“The finding of parthenogenesis in blacktip sharks, which are close relatives of some of the larger predatory sharks in the ocean including the tiger, bull and dusky sharks, raises intriguing questions about how frequently parthenogenesis may occur in the wild in this group of heavily fished sharks,” said Shivji. “It is possible that parthenogenesis could become more common in these sharks if population densities become so low that females have trouble finding mates.” Populations of all of these sharks have declined in the past twenty years due to overexploitation, mainly to supply the shark fin markets.
There have been nearly a dozen reports of suspected virgin births in sharks in recent years, but scientists largely assumed these cases were the result of long-term sperm storage by females after mating with males. Virgin birth is now the more probable explanation, and DNA testing is underway to confirm it in additional sharks. Chapman is currently analyzing the DNA of yet another shark species with Dr. Kevin Feldheim of the Field Museum in Chicago.
The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science conducts scientific research about critical threats to oceans and their inhabitants, providing the foundation for smarter conservation policy. The Institute is a major research program of Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and was founded as the Pew Institute for Ocean Science in 2003. Visit us online at http://www.oceanconservationscience.org and http://www.somas.stonybrook.edu.
Virginia Aquarium is an AZA-accredited institution that takes pride in the care of its animal collections and works to educate the public and further scientific understanding about wild populations. Visit http://www.virginiaaquarium.com.
The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) is a scientific research and graduate education organization based at the Oceanographic Center of Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA. The GHRI conducts marine fish biology and ecosystem function on a global scale to provide the knowledge required for more effective management, conservation and policy practices. For more information, please visit http://www.nova.edu/ocean/ghri.
For additional information contact Kathryn Cervino at 347.439.1816
Some brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy, new study suggests
11.12.2018 | Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Climate change and air pollution damaging health and causing millions of premature deaths
30.11.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy