Some endangered sawfishes are having babies, no sex required

Some female members of a critically endangered species of sawfish are reproducing in the wild without sex. The discovery, reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 1, marks the first time living offspring from “virgin births” have been found in a normally sexually reproducing vertebrate in the wild, the researchers say. Earlier evidence that vertebrates might sometimes reproduce via a process called parthenogenesis had primarily come from isolated examples of captive animals—including birds, reptiles, and sharks. In those instances, the animals in question surprised their keepers by giving birth despite the fact that they’d had no opportunity to mate.

In addition, researchers recently reported two free-living female snakes, each pregnant with a single parthenogen, but it was not known if these embryos would have lived in the wild. Therefore, no one really knew if this phenomenon took place to any significant extent in wild populations. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in New York and his colleagues from the Priztker Laboratory at the Field Museum of Chicago and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made the discovery that vertebrate parthenogens can and do live in the wild after conducting some routine DNA fingerprinting of smalltooth sawfish in a Florida estuary.

The researchers’ DNA analyses show that about 3% of the sawfish in their studies are products of this unusual form of reproduction. Smalltooth sawfish are one of five species of sawfish, a group of large rays known for their long, tooth-studded rostrum that they use to subdue small fish. The researchers say that sawfish could be the first family of marine animals to be driven to extinction due to overfishing and coastal habitat loss. Smalltooth sawfish are mainly found today in a handful of locations in southern Florida, including the Caloosahatchee and Peace Rivers.

Parthenogenesis is common in invertebrates but rare in vertebrate animals, the researchers explain. Vertebrate parthenogenesis is thought to occur when an unfertilized egg absorbs a genetically identical sister cell. The resulting offspring have about half of the genetic diversity of their mothers and often die. Source: Some endangered sawfishes are having babies, no sex required

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One Response to Some endangered sawfishes are having babies, no sex required

  1. alfy says:

    The thing about parthenogenesis is that in the past, you could only be certain of it with animals in captivity. It would not be possible to know whether it was happening in wild populations. Now there is a gene analysis method of establishing the fact of parthenogenesis, it may well be that it is much more common in wild populations than had previously been supposed.

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