What we do

What makes a shark a shark?

Investigating how sharks work at the level of their DNA

As far as vertebrates go, sharks are veritable antiques with remarkable biological capabilities. They have been around for at least 400 million years, predating even the dinosaurs. At least 500 species of living sharks are currently known, and more are undoubtedly going to be discovered. The antiquity of sharks, their species and habitat diversity, and their amazing form and function all suggest they have unique genetic properties that underlie their evolutionary success. Furthermore, as the earliest evolved jawed vertebrates, sharks can serve as important models for comparative biomedical research that will help us to understand the evolution and function of human biology and disease, including immune systems, neurobiology, stem cells, ageing and wound healing. Exploring linkages between shark and human biology has the potential to provide additional public awareness tools to further the cause of shark and marine conservation in general.

At the SOSSRC we are addressing an overarching question: what makes a shark a shark? In other words, how are sharks different from other vertebrates that don’t share their remarkable traits? We’re doing this by investigating these evolutionary marvels at the most fundamental level possible: by a comparative study of their entire genetic blueprints, or genomes, including detailed studies of all their genes and their expression. These studies will help illuminate the genetic foundations of what makes sharks such unique creatures.

Lead researchers: Andrea Bernard and Nicholas Marra