College of Science

Assistant Professor helps decode white shark genome

March 1, 2019

Photo by: Jim Gensheimer / Special To The SF Chronicle

Dr. Nate Jue, Assistant Professor within the School of Natural Sciences, recently collaborated with an international team of researchers to decode the entire genome of the white shark. The results of this collaborative research mark a major scientific breakthrough in understanding the biology of this apex predator, particularly in regards to its evolutionary adaptations. The findings from this research were recently published in the scientific journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Jue contributed to this collaborative effort by assisting in the assembly and analysis of the white shark genome and transcriptome. While reflecting on the connections we can make between this discovery and the genome of other organisms, Dr. Jue expressed:

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, 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 full genome has since been compared to those of several different organisms. The authors of this publication suggest that white sharks have evolved to become more resilient to cancer than humans, as well as to many other age-related diseases.

Researchers discovered unique blood-clotting and cancer-protection genes within the white shark genome. Further studies of these restorative pathways may assist medical researchers in their efforts to prevent cancer, treat age-related ailments and heal injuries in humans. In addition to harboring more healing properties than ourselves, researchers were shocked to discover the size of the white shark genome - measuring in at roughly one and half times the size of the human genetic code.

Decoding the white shark genome may also assist with the conservation of this often-feared, yet vulnerable species. The genome data revealed in this study can assist researchers with better understanding white shark population dynamics.

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.

Interested in learning more? Check out the online version of the published article or view Dr. Jue's recent interview with KCBA Fox 35.