Scientists accidentally create the “sturddlefish” — a new fish hybrid from two endangered species

National News

Meet the sturddlefish: a new species of fish accidentally created by scientists in Hungary. It’s an unusual mix of two endangered species, the American Paddlefish and the Russian Sturgeon.

According to a study published in the journal Genes, researchers at Hungary’s National Agricultural Research and Innovation Centre, Research Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture said that they were not trying to create a new fish when the sturddlefish was born. Rather, they just wanted to know if the two species could be bred in captivity — and were shocked when the resulting fish actually grew to adulthood. 

“This was the first successful hybridization between these two species and between members of the family Acipenseridae and Polyodontidae,” researchers wrote.

Using gynogenesis, a method of asexual reproduction that requires the presence of sperm but not the actual contribution of its DNA, researchers said they inadvertently used paddlefish sperm to fertilize sturgeon eggs. They managed to create hundreds of offspring. 

“We never wanted to play around with hybridization,” co-author Dr. Attila Mozsár told The New York Times. “It was absolutely unintentional.”

genes-11-00753-g004.png
(a) Yearlings of A. gueldenstaedtii and (b) their hybrids: (c) typical LH hybrid, (d) typical SH hybrid of P. spathula.GENES

Both the American Paddlefish and the Russian Sturgeon are critically endangered — neither would be able to successfully reproduce in the wild. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Natures, sturgeon, whose eggs are used for caviar, are “more critically endangered than any other group of species.” Habitat loss, overfishing and pollution are all to blame.

Both fish are also considered “living fossils,” because they have not evolved much over a long period of time. 

Researchers believe the last common ancestor between the two fish dates back as far as 184 million years ago — when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Despite evolving on opposite sides of the world, the two fish have quite a lot in common, including spiral valve intestines, scaleless skin and cartilaginous endoskeletons, the Times reports. 

The bizarre fish hybrids exhibit traits from both species — they were separated into two groups after researchers found that some received far more of their mother’s DNA, while others had DNA that equally represented both parents. 

Unfortunately, you won’t soon be seeing any sturddlefish in the wild. Researchers believe the offspring are infertile — a common side effect of crossbreeding. 

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