Scientists Accidentally Create Hybrid Fish from Two Endangered Species

The two fish breeds come from vastly different parts of the world and never met until now.
Fabienne Lang
Hybrid fishGenes

Scientists from Hungary were not expecting two vastly different breeds of fish to be able to interbreed — especially given they'd never crossed paths in the 184 million years of diverse evolution, nor given the fact that they've always lived on separate continents. 

However, nature defied the scientists and upon placing sperm from an American paddlefish near Russian sturgeon eggs in a lab, an entirely new hybrid fish was created. 

Their findings were published in Genes.


New hybrid species

The reason the scientists placed the sperm and the eggs so near each other was to push the eggs from the endangered sturgeon to reproduce asexually through what's called gynogenesis — a process that requires sperm to be nearby but doesn't introduce any actual DNA.

But that didn't entirely work out as planned and DNA was unintentionally transferred in the end, creating a new type of fish that is now called "sturddlefish," as per the New York Times.

These fish are slightly bizarre-looking fish that have taken varying characteristics from both fish breeds. 

Scientists Accidentally Create Hybrid Fish from Two Endangered Species
A comparison of the fish: the top is a typical Russian sturgeon, the bottom is a typical America paddlefish, with the two middle images featuring two different hybrids, Source: Kaldy et al./Genes

The Russian sturgeons typically feed at the bottom of seas, lakes, and rivers in Eastern Europe, Serbia, and the Middle East. American paddlefish, as their name implies, are found in rivers in the U.S., using their long and thin snout to feed from the muck.

A combination of these already-odd-looking fish is even more bizarre. Some of the hybrids have longer snouts than others, taken from their American paddlefish parent, and sport little dorsal bumps, much like the Russian sturgeon.

However odd this combination may seem, these two fish breeds do, in fact, have a few similarities. Both are known as living fossils as they have changed so little throughout evolution, and they both share a common ancestor that existed during the times of the dinosaurs.

Both fish are in danger of extinction, and the authors of the study said "These phenomena could lead to a higher similarity, compatibility, and flexibility among the sturgeon genomes and allow the hybridization between Russian sturgeon and American paddlefish despite the large geographical, physiological, and morphological distances."

However, hybrids aren't typically able to procreate, which would mean the end of the line with the hybrids. That said, they live nearly as long as the American paddlefish.

There are no further plans of creating more of these hybrids, however, the authors will continue to study the ones that already exist, to have a stronger understanding of how they can save the currently endangered paddlefish and sturgeon. 

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