This Fish Can Reproduce Without Mating

posted: 06/01/15
by: Danny Clemens
Pristis perotteti
Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

A critically endangered species of fish in the southeastern United States can reproduce by itself.

Researchers studying a small smalltooth sawfish (also known as the carpenter shark) population in a Florida estuary have found that the fish participates in parthenogenesis, a process through which females can produce offspring without the assistance of a male.

Although common in invertebrates, parthenogenesis is understood to be extremely rare in vertebrates. Researchers believe that an unfertilized egg can absorb an identical sister cell, although the resulting offspring usually have very little genetic diversity and rarely survive beyond birth. Scientists have observed the practice in captivity, but this represents the first instance of parthenogenesis in the wild. It has also been confirmed in the bonnethead shark, blacktip shark, and zebra shark.

Using DNA analysis, researchers located seven sawfish in the estuary born as a result of parthenogenesis. They all appeared to be in good health, and they were tagged and released back into the wild.

The critically endangered smalltooth sawfish is threatened by overfishing and habitat destruction. Researchers are hopeful that parthenogenesis can help the dwindling species thrive, and believe that it could be a list-ditch biological attempt to keep a threatened species afloat for a short while longer.

"This should serve as a wake-up call that we need serious global efforts to save these animals," said Kevin Feldheim, whose laboratory facilitated the DNA analysis.

Click here for more information from Cell Press

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