Why a COVID-19 vaccine could further imperil deep-sea sharks
16 November 2020
Shark liver oil helps make vaccines more effective, but increased demand for the substance could harm critically endangered species.
Trawling for prey at more than a thousand feet under the surface, the scalloped hammerhead shark relies on a special oil in its liver to survive the crushing pressures of the deep.
Shark liver oil, or squalene, is a fatty substance that provides vital buoyancy for this critically endangered species and many others. But it’s also a lifesaver for humans as a boosting agent in vaccines, called an adjuvant, that improves the immune system and makes vaccines more effective.
As the world’s pharmaceutical companies scramble to create a vaccine for COVID-19, at least five of the 202 vaccine candidates rely on squalene sourced from wild-caught sharks.
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