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Tracked Great White Shark May Be Pregnant

A great white shark that has been tagged by a group of scientists at OCEARCH, a non-profit organisation that carries out research on sharks and other apex predators, is thought to possibly be pregnant.Due to an error during the first trimester, the pinna (external ear) does not develop completely or correctly. There are different grades of microtia, ranging from a slightly smaller pinna (grade I) to complete absence of the ear (grade IV). This isn’t the first time that ACSs have been grown into features used for reconstruction. A new review in Stem Cells Translational Medicine has analyzed 13 cases where these cells were used to create cranio-maxillofacial bone. With follow-up times ranging from 1-4 years, 10 of the 13 patients had integrated the stem cell-derived bone with their natural bone. Of those that failed, two implants needed to be redone due to the type of containment mesh used. The third case deemed a failure (septum perforation) was because the patient had a nose-picking habit that was apparently too hard to give up.

Interestingly, Lydia is traversing the Atlantic, crossing the Mid-Atlantic ridge last weekend. It is becoming apparent that sharks are dwelling in temperatures once thought to be too cold. Lydia is the first shark to be tracked crossing the Atlantic. Fischer told the BBC that he believes “it’s possible for Lydia to make it to the UK”. Although there have been reported sightings in British water in the past, it is uncertain as to whether these were indeed great whites.  The great white shark (Carcharadon carcharias) is a species of shark found in coastal and offshore waters which have a temperature range of between approximately 12 and 24 degrees Celsius. These sharks are apex predators; they have no natural predators of their own, and prey on a variety of animals including seals and smaller shark species. Female great whites are larger than males, and may reach up to 5 meters in length.  There is no direct evidence that Lydia is pregnant, but Fischer recently told the the BBC that he guesses she is pregnant, and is heading to the white white shark birthing grounds. This is very exciting, because very little is in fact known about shark pregnancy. Male sharks have reproductive organs called claspers; these are used to deliver the shark sperm which comes inside a shelled packet. The body of the female will eventually break this down, impregnating the female, although it’s unknown how long this takes. Great white sharks are ovoviviparous; the eggs develop and hatch inside the mother until birth. It’s believed that during the mating process, the male shark will bite the female in order to help keep the sharks in the right place.

Microtia is a congenital condition that occurs in about 1 in every 5,000-7,000 births. Leader of the expedition, Chris Fischer, thinks that the shark, named Lydia, is probably headed for birthing grounds in the Mediterranean sea. Lydia was tagged last year near Jacksonville, Florida, and has since traveled around a whopping 20,000 miles. You can track her movements at the OCEARCH page. Tagging can be a fairly distressing process; the shark is sometimes removed from the water in order to secure the tag. Some types of tags can be attached whilst the shark is still in the water, but these tags do not stay on the shark for extended periods, meaning they can only be tracked for shorter periods of time. Tags can also induce fouling of the dorsal fin over time. There are both costs and benefits to the process that need to be weighed up – thanks to tagging, our knowledge and understanding of these creatures has increased many times over. The more we understand of them, the easier it will be to protect them. Many shark species are vulnerable to extinction.

This deformity can be repaired when the child is about eight years old by obtaining cartilage from the child’s ribs and molding it into a new ear, which will continue to grow throughout the child’s life, just like a natural ear. However, there are some significant drawbacks to the latter approach, because the ribs aren’t able to rebuild the cartilage that was taken and requires multiple surgeries. But according to new research, there could be another way. A team of researchers from the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London have converted mesenchymal stem cells obtained from fat into cartilage; the results of which were published in the journal Nanomedicine. A small sample of the patient’s fat is taken from the abdomen and the stem cells are extracted. The adipose-derived stem cells (ACSs) are then spread out onto a scaffold that is shaped like a pinna and is induced into growing and differentiating into ear-shaped cartilage. Growing cartilage this way has several advantages over the traditional method. Obviously, the child will not experience the surgery, scar, or loss of cartilage from the rib.  Obtaining the adipose tissue is much less invasive. This technique also only requires one surgery, which is a clear advantage for the child and their worried parents. The success of the hard tissue implants gives hope that the technique to convert ACSs into cartilage will have an easy time with the subsequent safety testing required before it will be used in clinical practice. The researchers are optimistic that this approach could revolutionize microtia reconstruction by only requiring one surgery. Of course, this technique could also be used for other deformities or injuries that result in the loss of an ear or nose.
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