Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Scientists Confirm Virgin Birth

Scientists have confirmed that hammerhead sharks can give virgin births, also known as parthenogenesis. They had seen this phenomena in bony fish, but this is the first confirmed event from a cartilaginous fish.

Scientists, working with DNA from the offspring of a captive female hammerhead shark, authenticated a complete lack of paternal DNA, meaning the hammerhead shark gave a virgin birth. The tests were carried out on the pup of a captive shark born in captivity in 2001 in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska.

Scientists fear this could further harm shark populations, as parthenogenesis results in less diversity amongst the population, which could affect the animals' survivability. The idea is that sharks are resorting to parthenogenesis because they are unable to find suitable sexual partners. While extremely rare in vertebrates, the phenomena is known to occur in lower animals, such as bees and ants.

My take on it is that it's very possible the virgin shark birth was simply an anomaly. After all, if it is possible, then the odds are overwhelming that it has and does happen from time to time. And if the process is more common in bony fish, it's not like this would be the Second Coming of the fish world; it would simply be a very rare occurrence.

Sadly, the pup shark was killed by stingrays very shortly after the birth - before zookeepers could remove it from the tank.

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