Saturday, October 11, 2008

The second coming?

This story is crazy!!

Tidbit, a female Atlantic Black Tip Shark at an aquarium in Virginia Beach, produced a baby through divine, immaculate conception! She was raised at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Centre, where she spent eight years with no contact with a male shark of her species. She was removed from her tank for a vet exam, and, sadly, she died : ( They preformed a necropsy, and discovered she had a fully formed pup in her belly, and she was nearly ready to give birth! DNA testing showed the baby had no father and it was indeed created just from Tidbit's genes.

How wild is that?! Apparently this is the second known instance of a Jesus shark. Last year, DNA testing proved that a hammerhead shark living at a zoo in Omaha had given birth to a baby Jesus shark back in 2002. This phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, and it happens when a baby is conceived without a father's sperm fertilizing a mother's egg. In the case of these two virgin shark moms, it appears as if the mother's chromosomes split during egg development. Apparently, this isn't unique to sharks. It has also been documented in Komodo dragons, snakes, birds, fish and amphibians. I knew some frogs could change sex based on their environment, but I had no idea females could just get knocked up absent of knocking boots with a hott buddy animal.

If this happens in sharks with the splitting of chromosomes during egg development, does this mean female sharks develop their eggs as they age? (As opposed to us human girls, who are born with all their eggs already made.) I guess my real question is - is this some sort of freak developmental issue when the fetus girl shark is busy making her eggs (like it would be if this happened to a woman), or was it some kind of evolutionary response to an environment that was absent of any males that could help propagate the species?

I think either answer leads to some interesting things. If the answer is "yes" to the first question (ie, it's a freak thing in the life of a fetus), it technically means it might happen to a person. How FREAKY would that be? Maybe it does happen! but mom's body aborts the baby naturally (aka miscarriage very early on and mom has no idea) because it can tell that this particular baby doesn't have a nice combination of DNA from two sources... ? Or, if the answer to the second question is "yes," that leads to some WAY cool ideas about evolution, survival of the fittest, that deep biological need/urge to make babies, etc!!! The need to propagate the species is SO STRONG that certain fit bodies are able to do it themselves when they can't find a mate. That is soooo freakin awesome!! (You'll have to forgive me... I'm a huge bio nerd, so I get off on stuff like this.)

Interesting story! If I had the energy, I'd probably research this a little more.... perhaps tomorrow night : )

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