It’s been a busy year for the Shark Research Center, with the publication of several key papers that point to the complex and highly tuned functioning of sharks. Among these is a study indicating that the fully sequenced white shark genome is much larger than our human genome. It also shows some interesting results of potential biomedical value.
As part of the Shark Research Center’s ongoing work in the field of comparative genomics of sharks, the complete set of white shark Carcharodon carcharias genes – known as the genome – have been sequenced and the findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research paper, titled ‘White shark genome reveals ancient elasmobranch adaptations associated with wound healing and the maintenance of genome stability’, gives new insights into why sharks are so well adapted to their environment, why they are able to heal quickly from wounds and why they seem to suffer less than humans do from age-related diseases and cancers. The paper’s lead author, Nicholas Marra, worked with a host of co-authors to look at how the white shark has been adapted right from the molecular level of its DNA to its ocean environment. This work forms part of a much bigger body of research that we are still conducting – and a busy year it appears lined up to be!
Our current focus lies in three areas. Firstly, we’re interested in the conservation genetics of sharks, which involves identifying genetically unique elasmobranch populations and understanding their dynamics, deciphering elasmobranch breeding behaviour and developing genetic tools to investigate the trade in shark body parts. All this research contributes to how we better manage dwindling or threatened shark populations, using a host of genetic tools as a way to add to the current arsenal of scientific methods.
Secondly, we are investigating comparative genomics, which involves studying how elasmobranchs function at their most fundamental biological level; that is, their whole genomes, especially with regard to the genetic basis of their ability to heal from wounds efficiently and their apparent higher resistance to cancers. The white shark study formed part of this line of investigation. Lastly, we’re looking into the movement ecology of sharks, which is the study of shark migration patterns and their interaction with commercial fishing.
Follow-up genomics research for this year includes digging deeper into the genome sequences of the white shark to gain more insight into its population trends, as well as advancing our work on assembling and characterising the genome of the endangered great hammerhead shark. This research is an extension of the previous work we did on sequencing a subset of white and great hammerhead shark genomes; that is, the transcriptomes, which represent only the sequences of the shark genes that are expressed.
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.