Whale shark project lets students dive into genetic research

Biology undergraduates at Emory are studying genetics in a big way: They are the first to take a crack at researching the raw data from the sequence of the genome of the whale shark, the world’s largest fish.

The project to sequence the whale shark genome is a collaboration between Dr. Tim Read, faculty member in MMG and PBEE, and Dr. Alistair Dove, director of research and conservation at the Georgia Aquarium.

Whale sharks can grow up to about 40 feet long. They have huge mouths, and yet they are filter feeders that mainly eat tiny organisms like plankton. Like all sharks, they are ancient animals, among the earliest of jawed vertebrates.

“When we’re looking into the whale shark genome we’re doing a sort of molecular archeological dig,” Read says. “We can see the history of the whale shark in its tissue.”

The researchers are particularly interested in exploring the immune system of the whale shark.

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