Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Scientists map great white shark genome, revealing clues about cancer and healing wounds

Can learning about the great white shark help protect us from cancer?

(Photo: Lalo Saidy / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
  • Scientists have mapped the entire genome of the great white shark.
  • The team found genetic adaptations that seem to help the fish preserve and repair its genome, clues that may help us better understand why sharks rarely get cancer.
  • The team also identified several gene pathways that might also help explain the fish's extraordinary wound-healing capabilities.

An international team of scientists has decoded the entire genome of the great white shark, an achievement that could help us better fight cancer and learn more about the fish's extraordinary healing capabilities.

How could the great white shark – an apex predator that can reach 20 feet long and 7,000 pounds – provide humanity with potentially life-saving knowledge about cancer and other diseases? For one, the great white shark is a champion of evolution; its DNA has been fine-tuned by millions of years spent thriving in the world's oceans with no natural predators. Mapping the great white's genome could illuminate the keys to this evolutionary success.

The team, which published its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared the great white's genome to that of humans and other vertebrates. The researchers found patterns of DNA sequence changes that indicated molecular adaptation in genes related to maintaining genome stability, through functions including DNA damage response, DNA repair and DNA damage tolerance – all of which can protect against cancer.

This might explain why sharks rarely suffer from the disease.

"Not only were there a surprisingly high number of genome stability genes that contained these adaptive changes, but there was also an enrichment of several of these genes, highlighting the importance of this genetic fine-tuning in the white shark," Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU's Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and GHRI, said in a statement.

The researchers also found that the great white's genome contains one of the highest proportions of transposons – also known as "jumping genes" – ever discovered among vertebrates.

"These LINEs are known to cause genome instability by creating double stranded breaks in DNA," study co-author Michael Stanhope said in a statement. "It's plausible that this proliferation of LINEs in the white shark genome could represent a strong selective agent for the evolution of efficient DNA repair mechanisms, and is reflected in the positive selection and enrichment of so many genome stability genes."

Rapid wound healing

A great white shark near The Neptune Islands, South Australia, sticks its head out of the water, baring its teeth.

Photo: Brad Leue / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In addition to being able to preserve and repair genetic information, sharks are also known for their uncanny ability to recover from external injuries. For example, a 2015 study on blacktip reef sharks found they were able to heal wounds rapidly – sometimes within days – even when injuries were severe.

"We found positive selection and gene content enrichments involving several genes tied to some of the most fundamental pathways in wound healing, including in a key blood clotting gene," Stanhope said. "These adaptations involving wound healing genes may underlie the vaunted ability of sharks to heal efficiently from even large wounds."

Uncovering the 'tip of the iceberg' in shark genome research

The great white shark's ability to protect its genome may well help humans someday do the same, but it'll take years to incorporate these findings into approved treatments.

"Genome instability is a very important issue in many serious human diseases; now we find that nature has developed clever strategies to maintain the stability of genomes in these large-bodied, long-lived sharks," said Shivji. "There's still tons to be learned from these evolutionary marvels, including information that will potentially be useful to fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound healing treatments in humans, as we uncover how these animals do it."

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Keep reading Show less

Space travel could create language unintelligible to people on Earth

A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.

Cylindrical space colony.

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center.
Surprising Science
  • A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
  • Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
  • This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Keep reading Show less

Your emotions are the new hot commodity — and there’s an app for that

Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Personal Growth

Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.

Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast