Magazine article Ecos

Sharks Could Save Lives: While in an Evolutionary Context Sharks Are a Long Way from Humans-Our Evolutionary Lineages Diverged Almost 500 Million Years Ago-Sharks Have an Immune System Similar in Many Ways to Our Own

Magazine article Ecos

Sharks Could Save Lives: While in an Evolutionary Context Sharks Are a Long Way from Humans-Our Evolutionary Lineages Diverged Almost 500 Million Years Ago-Sharks Have an Immune System Similar in Many Ways to Our Own

Article excerpt

Shark populations are declining around the world, but their value to science, and the enormous potential value of biocompounds to us generally, have been reaffirmed now researchers have discovered that sharks' unique antibodies may help diagnose a wide range of human diseases.

While in an evolutionary context sharks are a long way from humans--our evolutionary lineages diverged almost 500 million years ago--sharks have an immune system similar in many ways to our own.

Antibodies are the effector proteins present in all immune systems. They are responsible for binding and neutralising the wide range of pathogens, toxins and foreign molecules we encounter. Until recently all antibodies were thought to have just a single, basic architecture, which with slight variations is found in all animals from sharks to humans.

Now, however, senior scientists Dr Victor Streltsov and Dr Stewart Nuttall from the CSIRO's Division of Health Sciences and Nutrition, and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Diagnostics, have determined the three-dimensional structure of a new class of shark antibodies termed IgNARs (short for Immunoglobulin New Antigen Receptor). The genes encoding these proteins were obtained from wobbegong sharks (Orectolobus maculatus), a species found in the Western Pacific ocean, including Australian waters.

Research has shown that these new antibodies have an unusual evolutionary history, with the shark immune system appearing to have co-opted a particular type of cell-surface protein to its own use. This has created the novel class of antibodies, completely unlike those seen in humans. …

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