New research suggests that understanding sharks and their DNA could benefit human medical research. The findings not only add to our scientific interest in these predators, but also increase their conservation importance. Nicholas Marra and scientists from the Nova Southeastern University’s Save Our Seas Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) and the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine found that genes linked to sharks’ immune systems have been modified through evolution. These modifications help to explain how, even though sharks swim in bacteria-laden ocean water, their wounds heal quickly. They may also give sharks higher resistance to cancers.
‘The immune system of sharks and rays has been battle-tested and evolved over hundreds of millions of years,’ explains Mahmood Shivji in a Nova Southeastern University press release. Shivji is director of the Save Our Seas Shark Research Center and GHRI and a co-author of the paper. He believes the findings increase the urgency to conserve sharks. ‘Now we have another important reason to make sure we don’t lose these marvellous and ecologically critical animals to overfishing, as is currently occurring in many parts of the world,’ he says. ‘We’ve just scratched the surface in terms of learning what these ancient animals can teach us, as well as possibly provide us in terms of direct biomedical benefits.’
The SOSF Shark Research Centre (SOSF-SRC) is located in Florida and was established at Nova Southeastern University in 2009 by directive of the founder of the Save Our Seas Foundation.
The centre focuses mainly on scientific research aimed at increasing knowledge to aid the conservation, management and understanding of sharks and rays worldwide.
A hallmark of the SOSF-SRC is that it specialises in taking integrative, multi-disciplinary approaches to research and conservation, which include combining high-tech genetics, genomics and field work to illuminate holistically aspects of shark and ray science that would be difficult to decipher using single-discipline approaches alone.
The SOSF-SRC also serves as an academic unit within Nova Southeastern University and as such its function includes the training of students from around the world in marine research and conservation. Although advanced scientific research is the main focus of the SOSF-SRC, our staff also undertake educational and outreach activities involving primary (US middle) and secondary (US high) school students.