There is no doubt just how massive the Great White Shark is; I mean, after all, its in their name. But in case you were not aware, these magnificent creatures can measure upwards of 20 feet long (6 meters) and can weigh up to three tons (that’s 6,000 pounds if you do the math). And among these amazing stats, you might also find it impressive that they are among the oldest organisms on the planet, with evidence of their presence for at least the last 16 million years.
But what might be more impressive than their size and ancestry, is just how impressive their DNA might be. While humans, for example, have a very unstable genome—which is what so often leads to age-related diseases like cancer—these amphibious predators are quite different. And these differences might hold a secret that can help humans combat our own genomic instabilities.
Nova Southeastern University director of the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center, Dr. Mahmood Shivji, explains, “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.”
In a new study, then, this research team has identified the great white shark has nearly double the genetic information as humans (41 pairs of chromosomes vs 23 pairs). More importantly, though, the great white shark genome has a surprisingly high number of something called “jumping genes”. Also known as transposons, these are very short DNA sequences that can leap from one location in the genetic code to another in order to accelerate evolution. Essentially, this is one of many great white shark gene mutations that we now know are linked with the biological processes involved with wound healing.
Indeed, sharks are well-known for their impressive injury recovery speed, even with very serious injuries.
The study co-lead author goes on to say, “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.”
The research team consists of scientists from not only the NSU’s Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center but also the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the results have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.