Whale Shark DNA Sequencing

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What genes control a whale shark’s size? What species are their closest relatives? Cutting edge DNA sequencing can potentially unlock a whale shark’s biological secrets…

The Georgia Aquarium is currently conducting core DNA sequencing studies in collaboration with Emory University to learn more about the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. Once decoded, a DNA sequence can serve as a species’ biological encyclopedia.

“The genome is like the ultimate blueprint for a living organism – the DNA codes for every protein, every enzyme and every aspect of the biology of an animal,” says Dr. Alistair Dove, Senior Scientist at the Georgia Aquarium. “You can ask [it] complete genetic questions and the answers are at your fingertips.”

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By cracking the whale sharks’ unique DNA sequencing codes, researchers hope to gather as much information as possible about the species. Mysterious questions – such as what creatures are the whale shark’s closest relative? and, what genes control a whale shark’s size? – can be potentially answered.

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The process of DNA sequencing isn’t as fast as one would hope – the Human Genome Project took thirteen years to complete – so it could be many months before preliminary findings are revealed. Dove explains that with “billions of letters to decode, there’s a long way to go… One exciting thing about it is that with so little genetics done on whale sharks before, everything we find is new to science.  Its true exploration, just on a molecular scale.”

Great Migrations premieres on the National Geographic Channel this Sunday November 7 starting at 8P et/pt.

Photo Credits: Jodi Kendall and Rafael de la Parra