An Australian scientist is developing an artificial uterus for the Grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) in a bid to save the species from extinction.
The strongest pups of the Grey nurse shark eat their siblings while in the uterus, meaning that only two pups are born to each pregnant shark at any one time (one from each of the two uteruses in the female shark).
This is not good news for the long-term survival of the species, considering that scientists estimate only about 500"1000 Grey nurse sharks are currently left in Australian waters.
In a bid to boost the numbers of Grey nurse sharks (females initially produce up to 40 embryos), Nick Otway of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries has come up with a novel solution - build an artificial womb for the sharks to negate sibling cannibalism in the embryos.
The proposal involves removing the young before they go cannibalistic and raising them in artificial uteruses.
The young receive a steady food supply through the artificial wombs and are prevented from eating each other, being released after 9"12 months.
Otway estimates that raising 40 pups a year is enough to bring up Grey shark numbers.
The process is not expected to be easy, since the artificial wombs need to mimic the environment inside the mother sharks; surgical transfer of the embryos from the mother to the sterile artificial uteruses also need to be mastered.
Even though Otway and his team have successfully demonstrated the viability of his proposal on wobbegong sharks at the Port Stephens Fisheries Centre, he acknowledges that the process is still several years away from being applied to Grey nurse sharks.