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Pew Researcher's Shark Virgin Birth Discovery Top Story in Science News

January 15, 2008

Shark Researcher Dr. Demian Chapman's recent paper "Virgin birth in a hammerhead shark" (Biology Letters 3(4): 425-427, 2007) has been named one of the top science stories of 2007 by Science News. The paper detailed the first known case of parthenogenesis, or "virgin birth," in a shark. Up until this discovery, it was assumed that female sharks had to mate with a male to produce an offspring. "Occasional reproduction without sex may be much more common and widespread than we ever realized in these ancient fishes," said Dr. Chapman, a scientist with the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. "Indeed, in the first few weeks of 2008 there have been reports of two more possible instances of shark parthenogenesis in aquaria in Europe and the U.K., involving two distantly related shark species.”

Dr. Chapman is now working in the genetics laboratory to test for parthenogenesis in two other shark species that have produced offspring in the absence of males in U.S. aquaria. Although parthenogenesis may provide a means for female sharks to reproduce alone, we shouldn't get our hopes up about this providing a boost to dwindling shark populations, Dr. Chapman said. "This is a short-term strategy for reproduction that appears to be inefficient and leads to the production of offspring with low genetic diversity" he said.

The Science News article appears in Vol 172, No.s 25 & 26, page 409, Dec 22 & 29, 2007.

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