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The Mysterious Shark Pup Birth

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You would have thought that virgin births were impossible. The laws of nature simply do not account for them. But a bonnethead shark, it was recently discovered, is capable of ‘virgin births’. When a zoo discovered that a baby shark mysteriously appeared in a tank of all female species, the riddle began. How could they do a paternity test with no males in the vicinity?

No Need For Paternity Test

In 2001, the zoo and scientists were flabbergasted at the birth. Producing offspring normally requires genetic material from a sperm and egg in sharks. Determining who the father of the offspring is takes a simple DNA paternity test. But without a male shark to test, scientists began to investigate the prospect that this was in fact a virgin birth.

Mystery Solved

Genetic tests on the shark were finally published this year confirming there was no need for a paternity test, because it was in fact a virgin birth. The baby shark developed without being first fertilised by shark sperm. Although virgin births are rare, they do happen – although not in humans. This is the first time a paternity DNA test hasn’t been needed however on this breed of fish. Humans have never before witnessed cartilaginous fish (sharks) have a virgin birth; scientists believed placental animals such as sharks needed genes from both the male and female of the species. But the tests were conclusive and confirmed the virgin birth.

No Male Genes

The zoo in Nebraska, America excited scientists as the tank where the virgin pup was born housed three female bonnetheads who had been separated from the male bonnethead species for over three years. A paternity test would reveal if the shark had retained sperm after mating years ago in the wild or even if the off-spring was the result of cross-breeding with other species. But the DNA paternity test revealed the pup was genetically identical to the females.

DNA Testing on Animals

When people hear the phrase “DNA testing on animals”, they often think of animals being subjected to all sorts of experiments in a laboratory. First of all, there is a difference between “testing on animals” and “DNA testing on animals”. Secondly, many animal DNA tests are actually aimed at helping animals or pets live longer, healthier lives. For example, a feline PKD test (Polycystic Kidney Disease being an abnormality in domestic cats), can help cat owners establish whether their feline friend carries the disease causing gene and take the necessary steps and precautions if they do. There are also dog inherited disease tests which will analyse the DNA of a specific bread of dog to determine whether the dog carries any disease causing genes prevalent in that bread.

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