Scientists Accidentally Bred a Bizarre Hybrid of Two Endangered Fish

2 mn read

You’d think at least 184 million years of evolution on entirely separate continents would be enough to make two species of fish sexually incompatible.

That was the assumption scientists in Hungary were going on when they placed sperm from an American paddlefish near eggs from a Russian sturgeon in the lab.

The idea was to coax the eggs from endangered sturgeon into reproducing asexually through a process called gynogenesis, which requires the presence of sperm without the introduction of any actual DNA.

The process clearly didn’t quite go as planned. It seems DNA was transferred after all, unintentionally resulting in a whole new variety of fish that’s come to be known as the “sturddlefish”.

These odd-looking creatures are a bizarre mix of two wildly different-looking species, which might have never come into contact had humans not intervened.

Russian sturgeons feed along the floors of seas, lakes and rivers in eastern Europe, Serbia, and the Middle East. They are not found in the United States, not even as an introduced species.

As their name implies, American paddlefish can be found in the rivers of the United States, using their unusually long, paddle-shaped snouts to dig for food in the muck.

The offspring of these two species look, if possible, even stranger than their parents. Some half-resemble their mother and half-resemble their father, bearing classic sturgeon fins and snouts, along with typical paddlefish mouths and appetites.

Others look far more like sturgeons than paddlefish.

“I did a double-take when I saw it,” aquatic ecologist Solomon David told The New York Times.

“I just didn’t believe it. I thought, hybridisation between sturgeon and paddlefish? There’s no way.”

While these new fish are probably sterile, like other hybrids, they appear to survive at a similar rate to American paddlefish. Some are still alive and swimming today.

The scientists don’t have plans to make any more of these hybrid fish, but they will continue studying how sturgeon and paddlefish reproduce in the hopes that they can save these fish from the brink of extinction.

Today, both these families of fish are seriously endangered. Just this year, the Chinese paddlefish went extinct, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that sturgeon are “more critically endangered than any other group of species”.

Let’s hope they’re on the right track.

The study was published in Genes.


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One thought on

Scientists Accidentally Bred a Bizarre Hybrid of Two Endangered Fish

  • techsupport

    Thanks. It helps me a-lot.

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