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White Shark Genome Decoded

Huge Genome Reveals Sequence Adaptations in Key Wound Healing and Genome Stability Genes Tied to Cancer Protection

SEASIDE, Ca., February 25, 2019 – An international team of researchers, that includes CSUMB School of Natural Sciences assistant professor Nathaniel Jue, has published a major scientific step to understanding the biology of the great white shark, and how it’s genetic makeup may be useful in treatment of human conditions.

The research findings, published Feb. 19 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe the first time the entire genome of the white shark has been decoded in detail, and represent a breakthrough for scientists studying evolutionary adaptations in the marine environment.

Juan Oliphant
Photo by: Juan Oliphant
"Through comparisons with other species, genetic adaptations in the white sharks can help us better understand how important processes like the repair of damaged DNA, which is a key issue in cancer biology, may function in other organisms including humans..”
SNS assistant professor and co-author of the study, Nathaniel Jue.

In assisting in the assembly and analysis of both its genome and transcriptome (the set of genes active in the white shark), Jue’s work provided a key contribution to generating the first major genetic resources for this species.

SNS assistant professor Nathaniel Jue holds the jaw of a great white shark.
Photo by: Jim Gensheimer / Special To The SF Chronicle
SNS assistant professor Nathaniel Jue holds the jaw of a great white shark.

Decoding the white shark’s genome revealed not only its huge size, one-and-a-half times the size of the human genome, but also a plethora of genetic changes that could be behind the evolutionary success of large-bodied and long-lived sharks.

“Generating this genome sequence, and the predictions of all the genes and other components in it, let us study the unique genetic mechanisms that underlie the biology of this amazing animal,” said Nathaniel Jue, associate professor at CSUMB’s School of Natural Sciences and a co-author of the study. "Through comparisons with other species, genetic adaptations in the white sharks can help us better understand how important processes like the repair of damaged DNA, which is a key issue in cancer biology, may function in other organisms including humans..”

The research team was led by scientists from Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. The team also included scientists from Clemson University, University of Porto, Portugal and the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics, Russia.

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Great white shark: Its genetic mysteries and how they can help cancer research

The great white shark has unique blood-clotting and cancer-protection genes that may provide insight into human health.

“Decoding the white shark genome is providing science with a new set of keys to unlock lingering mysteries about these feared and misunderstood predators - why sharks have thrived for some 500 million years, longer than almost any vertebrate on earth” said Salvador Jorgensen, a senior research scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and co-author of the study.

The completed genome was compared to those from several other animals, including the whale shark and humans. The findings suggest that sharks have evolved to be more resilient than we are to cancers, and to several other age-related diseases that typically affect humans.

The study adds another big piece in the ongoing puzzle to uncover the secrets of these important predators. The authors of the study say that, aside from the potentially significant biomedical insights, this kind of information builds on our understanding of white sharks as complex, highly adapted creatures and adds to what we need to know to manage their populations better.

This research was funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Hai Stiftung/Shark Foundation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and in-kind support from Illumina, Inc., and Dovetail Genomics.

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