Virgin birth may be sharks' secret survival strategy
London: Parthenogenesis – a form of asexual reproduction found in females, where growth and development of embryos occurs without fertilization by a male – may be part of an extreme survival strategy for sharks, say researchers.
In parthenogenesis, females'' eggs start dividing without being fertilised. This produces daughters that are genetically similar to the mother.
It was first observed in a captive hammerhead shark in 2001, but this was an isolated incident, and the shark pup died after three days, making it difficult to say much about its evolutionary significance.
Kevin Feldheim at the Field Museum in Chicago, and an international team of colleagues, have now shown that the incident was not exceptional and sharks born from a virgin mother can survive for many years.
The team were inspired by the 2001 birth to keep eggs produced by a captive white-spotted bamboo shark at the Belle Isle Aquarium of the Detroit Zoological Institute.
The female had never encountered a male during her adult life and biologists had assumed the eggs were infertile.
To their surprise seven incubated eggs produced two pups that survived five years before they were transferred to another facility. Genetic analysis confirmed that they were parthenogens.
"This suggests that parthenogenesis is a viable shark survival strategy," New Scientist quoted Paulo Prodohl of Queen''s University Belfast, UK, as saying.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Heredity.