Great White Shark Genome Mapped, Could Lead to Longer Life in Humans

Scientists look to the apex predator's DNA for biological hints on faster healing, fewer diseases.

A great white shark heads towards the camera, just below the surface of the water. (Brad Leue / Barcroft Images)
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The complete genome of the 400-million-year-old great white shark has just been mapped and now researchers are eager to use the data to help humans live longer lives with less disease.

The findings were published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It reported that great white sharks have 41 pairs of chromosomes, compared to the 23 pairs in humans.

“Historically, there’s been a lot more interest in sequencing other vertebrates, like livestock and primates,” says Michael Stanhope, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, who co-led the mapping project. “But sharks have some fascinating biology going on that really warranted more investigation.”

One attribute of particular interest to scientists is how quickly great white sharks heal from massive bites, gashes, and other injuries they receive while prowling the open oceans.

So how do their bodies recover so fast? Scientists discovered that great white sharks have DNA sequencing that code for ultra-powerful blood-clotting agents and special proteins responsible for creating new flesh. “They’ve devoted a significant proportion of their genome to wound healing,” Stanhope told Wired.

The team also found that great white sharks devote massive chunks of their genome to internal repair mechanisms and tumor suppression. Because the fish species is so old and so far removed from humans, evolutionarily speaking, the genes could hold anti-cancer defenses yet known to man.

“Understanding how these genes might be inoculating these animals from cancer could be a huge benefit to humans,” Stanhope explains. But don’t start buying up shark for your next dinner party: “You’re no more likely to get protected from cancer by eating shark than you are likely to develop the ability to swim faster,” he said.

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