Tags: zebra | shark | birth | asexual

Zebra Shark Gives Birth Without Male

Image: Zebra Shark Gives Birth Without Male

Scientists recently confirmed that a zebra shark at an aquarium in Australia gave birth to three baby sharks without a male partner. (Screengrab)

By    |   Wednesday, 18 Jan 2017 08:34 AM

A zebra shark gave birth to three baby sharks without a male partner in early 2016, Australian researchers confirmed this week.

Leonie the zebra shark had been separated from her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia, since 2012, New Scientist magazine reported. Leonie had given birth to more than two dozen sharks before with her male partner.

Genetic testing of the baby sharks found that they only carried the DNA of the mother, indicating that they were conceived by asexual reproduction, New Scientist noted.

"This has big implications for conservation and shows us how flexible the shark's reproductive system really is," Christine Dudgeon, of the University of Queensland's School of Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement.

Dudgeon said that while sharks could reproduce without a mating partner, none that had a previously recorded sexual mating history had ever made the change to asexual reproduction.

"Leonie adapted to her circumstances and we believe she switched because she lost her mate," Dudgeon said in the University of Queensland statement. "What we want to know now is could this occur in the wild and, if so, how often does it?

"One reason why we haven't seen it before could be because we haven't been looking for it. It might be happening in the wild but it's never been recorded in this species before," she added.

Leonie's births were just the third documented case of a vertebrate of any species switching its reproductive strategy from sexual to asexual, CNN reported. An eagle ray and a boa constrictor, which were both held in captivity, are the only other species known to have undergone such an unusual biological shift.

"One theory is that in the wild, if for some reason males can't have contact with the females for one breeding season, they can keep their lineage going for one or two seasons (through asexual reproduction), until they can reproduce the traditional way," Hamish Tristram, a senior aquarist with Reef HQ in Australia, told CNN.

Dudgeon told CNN the next step will be to see how Leonie's offspring survive as they mature.

"We are keeping an eye on them, and ultimately we want to find out if her offspring can reproduce sexually," Dudgeon told CNN. "… Unfortunately they'll be more prone to problems due to the reduction in the diversity of their genetic makeup, but if they survive to that point, I know myself and other researchers are interested in finding out more. Nobody has previously demonstrated successful sexual reproduction for offspring produced through facultative parthenogenesis."

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A zebra shark gave birth to three baby sharks without a male partner in early 2016, Australian researchers confirmed this week.
zebra, shark, birth, asexual
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2017-34-18
Wednesday, 18 Jan 2017 08:34 AM
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