First shark recorded to change from sexual to asexual reproduction

January 17, 2017, University of Queensland
First shark recorded to change from sexual to asexual reproduction
Leonie the leopard shark. Credit: University of Queensland

Leonie the leopard shark has made a switch that could save her species – becoming the first shark recorded to change from sexual to asexual reproduction.

Dr Christine Dudgeon of UQ's School of Biomedical Sciences, who documented the change at Townsville's Reef HQ Aquarium, said sharks could reproduce without a mating partner, but none with a recorded sexual mating history had ever made the change to asexual reproduction.

"Leonie had with a male leopard shark until 2013, when the breeding pair were separated for space reasons," Dr Dudgeon said.

"In April 2016 Leonie hatched three eggs, despite having no access to a mating partner for three seasons.

"We thought she could be storing sperm but when we tested the pups and the possible parent sharks using DNA fingerprinting, we found they only had cells from Leonie."

It's a much-needed breakthrough and coincides with release of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which identified the leopard shark as an endangered species.

"This has big implications for conservation and shows us how flexible the shark's reproductive system really is," Dr Dudgeon said.

"Leonie adapted to her circumstances and we believe she switched because she lost her mate.

"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 before."

Dr Dudgeon plans to follow the pups until they reach maturity to answer the big question - can these asexually produced have pups of their own with a male partner?

"You lose genetic diversity with generations of , so we'll be seeing if these offspring can mate sexually themselves," Dr Dudgeon said.

Explore further: Scientist warns against shark culling

More information: Christine L. Dudgeon et al. Switch from sexual to parthenogenetic reproduction in a zebra shark, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/srep40537

Related Stories

Scientist warns against shark culling

August 18, 2015

A University of Queensland scientist has cautioned against culling sharks because the long term ecological impact cannot be predicted.

Recommended for you

Prenatal forest fire exposure stunts children's growth

February 19, 2019

Forest fires are more harmful than previously imagined, causing stunted growth in children who were exposed to smoke while in the womb, according to new research from Duke University and the National University of Singapore.

'Astrocomb' opens new horizons for planet-hunting telescope

February 19, 2019

The hunt for Earth-like planets, and perhaps extraterrestrial life, just got more precise, thanks to record-setting starlight measurements made possible by a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) "astrocomb."


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.