A baby shark born in all-female tank could be a rare case of a 'virgin birth'

A smooth-hound shark (L) with an adult female (foreground, R) in the aquarium of Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, western France. AFP
An Italian aquarium has produced a baby shark by allowing all females to fish in the tank.

The baby's mother was in the tank for ten years with another female.

Scientists believe it could be parthenogenesis, or a rare form of 'virgin birth.

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Scientists believe a rare shark "virgin-birth" could be the first of its type after an Italian aquarium's all-female tank gave birth to a baby shark.

According to AGI, the baby smoothhound shark named Ispera (which means hope in Sardianian) was born at Acquario di Cala Gorone in Sardinia.

The outlet stated that the mother of the shark had lived in a tank for ten years with only one female. Scientists believe the newborn may be the first case of shark parthenogenesis in this species.

Parthenogenesis, a rare phenomenon in which an egg becomes an embryo by itself without the aid of sperm, is very rare.

According to Live Science, the process was observed in more 80 vertebrate species including sharks and fishes.

Demian Chapman (director of the sharks & rays conservation program at Mote marine laboratory & aquarium in Florida) said that about 15 species of sharks / rays have been reported to do this.

He said that sharks may have the ability to do this, but it was hard to document in the wild.

Live Science was told by Chapman that parthenogenesis could be an option for females who are unable to find a mate due to low population density.

He said that captive sharks can trigger this response if they are kept apart from their males for a long time.

According to National Geographic, there are two types of parthenogenesis.

One is apomixis. This type of cloning is most common in plants.

Automixis is another method, as documented in sharks. It involves slight shuffles of the mother's genes in order to create offspring that are similar to her mother, but not exact copies.

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Christine Dudgeon, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, explained to Live Science how parthenogenesis works.

Dudgeon explained to Live Science that instead of combining with a fertilized sperm cell to create an embryo, the egg cell combines with a "polar body," which is basically another cell that has complementary DNA.

Dudgeon explained that parthenogenesis is basically a form inbreeding because the genetic diversity of offspring is greatly reduced.

She said that parthenogenesis offspring may have a lower chance of survival.

The New York Post reported that marine biologists from the Italian aquarium sent DNA samples to a laboratory in order to confirm that Ispera was parthenogeneic.

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