The great white shark's genetic healing powers have been decoded

We now know more about how they heal so rapidly and, potentially, how they stave off cancer.

Jody Watt

Sharks have given us a lot. 

Thanks to sharks we have Jaws, the Jaws theme song, the greatest in-flight cinematic masterpiece of all-times The Meg (starring Jason Statham) and uh... Baby Shark.

Now, thanks to science, they've given us the secrets of their genes.

An international research team of scientists from Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center, Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium have decoded in detail the genome of the great white shark. As a result, they've discovered a few interesting factoids.  

But first the genome itself. The great white shark's genome contains one and a half times the amount of information compared to a human genome (they have 41 pairs of chromosomes, whereas humans have 23). Sharks also feature a number of genetic changes that speak to the success of the shark from an evolutionary perspective.

For example, relatively speaking, great white sharks are better than humans at not getting cancer. Given their size and lifespan (great white sharks can live up to 70 years in the wild) scientists were surprised at how resilient great white sharks were against cancer. This is partly to do with the great white shark's genome stability. Simply put: The great white has genetic adaptations that help preserve the genome.

Sharks are also well known for their regenerative abilities. In short: Great white sharks heal extremely quickly. The key to their success in this area can also be found in their genes.

"We found positive selection and gene content enrichments involving several genes tied to some of the most fundamental pathways in wound healing, including in a key blood clotting gene," said Michael Stanhope, Ph.D., of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. "These adaptations involving wound healing genes may underlie the vaunted ability of sharks to heal efficiently from even large wounds."

There is potential for scientists to use these findings and apply the learnings to potential cancer drugs in the future.