Elephant Shark Helps Humans

Scientists looking into how shark skeletons develop, have come across an interesting discovery. They believe that studying the spines of a group of animals called chondrichthyans, which are fish with cartilage instead of bone, could help in understanding human skeletal heterotopic disorders.


Zerina Johanson, Catherine Boisvert, Anton Maksimenko, Peter Currie, Kate Trinajstic are the scientists who published the findings of this research, which was funded through an Australian Research Council grant and the National Health and Medical Research Council grant.

Their research focused around a part of the spinal structure called the ‘synarcual’. The synarcual is a structure incorporating multiple elements of two or more vertebrae of the skeleton, close to and immediately behind the skull.

The synarcual of a Largespot River Stingray

In humans, in certain diseases or disorders, parts of the spine can be fused together. By studying the development of both current and historical sharks and other chondrichthyans, the scientists were able to theorise that these animals who have fused vertebrae naturally, could help us learn more about spinal fusion as a symptom that presents itself in certain genetic disorders.

They hope that further study could lead to the identification of the genes that cause these disorders, which would be a fantastic result for medical research and the treatment of these disorders.

Nurse Shark

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