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Shark’s ‘virgin birth’ makes history, could save her species

Leopard shark Leonie (The University of Queensland)

A leopard shark in Queensland, Australia, aquarium, history is written with a ‘virgin birth’ that scientists say can help to save her endangered species.

Leonie, the leopard shark is the first shark recognised to change sexual asexual reproduction, according to a press release from the University of Queensland.

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Sharks can reproduce without a mating partner, according to Christine Dudgeon from the University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Sciences, which are documented and Leonie, the changes at the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville, Queensland. No one with a recorded sexual mating history, however, have ever been the change from asexual reproduction, ” she said.

“Leonie had puppies with a male leopard shark until 2013, when the breeding pair were separated for the space of reasons,” Dudgeon explained.

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In April 2016, however, Leonie surprised scientists when she was three eggs hatched, despite having no access to a mating partner for three pairs of seasons. “We thought that they could store sperm, but when we have the pups tested and the possible parents sharks using DNA fingerprinting, we found they only had the cells of Leonie,” said Dudgeon.

Leopard sharks are also known as zebra sharks. The “leopard” name refers to the spots that arise on the adult sharks’ skins.

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The incredible results of the research are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

With the leopard shark, identified as a threatened species, the discovery has important implications for conservation, according to experts. “Leonie adapted to the circumstances and we believe that she switched because she lost her partner,” Dudgeon said. “What we want to know now is can this occur in the wild and, if so, how often does it?”

Dudgeon plans to follow Leonie’s pups until they are mature to find out if the asexually produced sharks can have puppies of their own with a male partner. “You lose the genetic diversity of generations of asexual reproduction, so we’ll see if these offspring can mate sexual self,” the researcher said.

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