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Who bit the boat? New DNA collection and genomic methods enable species identification in suspected shark-related incidents

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Martin, B., Doane, M. P., Henkens, J., Morgan, J. A.T., Inglis, L., Peddemors, V. M., Dinsdale, E. A., Huveneers, C. and Meyer, L. (2024) Who bit the boat? New DNA collection and genomic methods enable species identification in suspected shark-related incidents. Forensic Science International: Genetics . p. 103087. ISSN 1872-4973

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Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsigen.2024.103087

Publisher URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1872497324000838


Species identification following shark-related incidents is critical for effective incident management and for collecting data to inform shark bite mitigation strategies. Witness statements are not always reliable, and identification is often ambiguous or missing. Alternative methods for species identification include morphological assessments of bite marks, analysis of collected teeth at the scene of the incident, and genetic approaches. However, access to appropriate collection media and robust genetic assays have limited the use of genetic technologies. Here, we present a case study that facilitated a unique opportunity for an experimental design to compare the effectiveness of medical gauze readily available in first-aid kits, and forensic-grade swabs in collecting genetic material for shark-species identification. Sterile medical gauze and forensic-grade swabs were used to collect transfer DNA from the bite margins on a bitten surf ski which were compared to a piece of shark tissue found embedded along the bite margin. Witness accounts and the characteristics of the bite mark impressions inferred the involvement of a Carcharodon carcharias (white shark). The morphology of a tooth found in the surf ski, however, suggested it belonged to an Orectolobus spp. (wobbegong). Genetic analysis of DNA transferred from the shark to the surf ski included the application of a broad-target nested PCR assay followed by Sanger sequencing, with white shark contribution to the ‘total sample DNA’ determined with a species-specific qPCR assay. The results of the genetic analyses were congruent between sampling methods with respect to species identification and the level of activity inferred by the donor-specific DNA contribution. These data also supported the inferences drawn from the bite mark morphology. DNA from the recovered tooth was PCR amplified with a wobbegong-specific primer pair designed for this study to corroborate the tooth’s morphological identification. Following the confirmation of gauze used for sampling in the case study event, two additional isolated incidents occurred and were sampled in situ using gauze, as typically found in a first-aid kit, by external personnel. DNA extracted from these gauze samples resulted in the identification of a white shark as the donor of the DNA collected from the bite marks in both instances. This study, involving three incidents separated by time and location, represents the seminal application of gauze as a sampling media after critical human-shark interactions and strongly supports the practical implementation of these methods in the field.

Item Type:Article
Corporate Creators:Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland
Business groups:Animal Science
Keywords:human-shark interaction qPCR shark bite shark attack transfer DNA white shark
Subjects:Science > Biology > Genetics
Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Fishery conservation
Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Fishery for individual species
Live Archive:24 Jun 2024 05:36
Last Modified:24 Jun 2024 05:36

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