Are Glofish an Ethical Violation?

Scientists at the National University of Singapore began experimenting with a curious green fluorescent protein and zebra fish in 1999.  Four years later, the patented Glofish hit the market. Although the initial study hoped to produce a fish that would serve as an indicator, glowing in the presence of environmental pollutants, what came of it was something unexpected: the first genetically modified pet.

Recently, the seemingly harmless Glofish have come under fire.  Several years after the initial zebra Glofish were engineered, Yorktown Technology created the Electric Green Tetra.  These particular fish were made to fluoresce using a gene from coral.  Environmental safety advocates worry that should these fish find their way into the wild, they would become a disruptive invasive species, outcompeting other fish.  The Center for Food Safety even sued the Food and Drug Administration for not creating enough regulations concerning the Glofish. Currently, genetically modified fish are outlawed in Canada, California, and Europe.

A satirical website has even been created, called Glowing Sushi.  The website humorously details preparation methods of glowing sushi.

Many seem to be averse to the idea of Glofish. This is understandable, as genetic engineering has long been a subject of controversy.  Proponents cite harmlessness and potential benefits such as increased food supply or health advantages (like less fat in meat products).  Critics assert that it is simply unnatural and may have negative effects on ecosystems and food chains.

With Glofish, however, it seems that little is at stake.  In one study, Glofish were shown not to have a mating advantage and had higher mortality rates than non-GM zebrafish in adverse conditions.  Another scientist contends that the Glofish simply would not be able to survive in a wild environment.  I feel that it is not my place to make an ethics call, but it appears that Glofish at least do not pose a threat to the environment.

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Strange Trends: Jellyfish Biomass Doubles

The Bering Aleutian Salmon International Survey, or BASIS, has been conducting a study on Bering Sea jellyfish since 2004.  As the name suggest, BASIS is concerned primarily with Bering salmon populations.  However, the data produced by scientists monitoring the bycatch of the BASIS-coordinated surface trawls have revealed much about indigenous jellyfish populations.  Once the trawl nets are full, they are hauled aboard.  The jellyfish medusae (the non-polyp form of cnidarians) are then sorted by species.  Weight and bell diameter are recorded and biomass is calculated for each species.

Interestingly, the jellyfish biomass doubled from 2012 to 2013.  This was also the year of the highest recorded biomass since the beginning of the study.  It is important to note that in 2012, distribution was patchy, as half of the total catch came from one particular station.  In the 2013 portion of the study, however, the findings were more uniform across sampling areas. This may mean that there were actually more or less jellyfish than accounted for in the 2012 portion, because the densely populated patches may not have been indicative of overall biomass.

The study suggests that this sharp increase in biomass cannot be fully accounted for by changes in temperature and salinity.  The variation may be a result of environmental forcing, which can be defined as changes in an ecosystem’s abiotic factors, like climate, trophic interactions, and hydrodynamics (the movements of the ocean).

This substantial increase in the jellyfish population could seriously disrupt the Bering food chain.  Jellies feed on zooplankton and larval fish so their biomass stands to decrease, potentially with adverse effects on the entire ecosystem.

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Lion’s Mane Jellyfish – the species with the largest biomass in the study

Photo copyright: Tim Nicholson at SCUBA Travel

Tiger Genome Sequencing Reveals Evolutionary Secrets

The genome of the Siberian tiger has been fully mapped by scientists after years of hard work.  Scientists hope that the genome will provide clues about how the Siberian tiger differs from other big cats, specifically the Bengal tiger, lion, and snow leopard.  The big cats all have in common the genes required to digest protein and form robust muscle fibers, evolutionary traits that elevated them to top-carnivore status. Interestingly, species as far removed genetically from the big cats as domestic house cats also share these genes.  In other words, scientists have identified several genes that make cats cats.  The traits associated with these genes are central to cat-ness.

Scientists also hope that the sequence will help in preserving genetic diversity in wild populations.  Today, there are as few as 450 Siberian tigers left in the wild.

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Siberian Tiger in the Wild

Hawaii Molasses Spill Threatens Marine Life

Last Monday, roughly 233,000 gallons of molasses were spilled into the Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon from a faulty pipeline built to transfer the molasses to a container ship.  According to a local dive shop owner who filmed this underwater video, the molasses has coated the ocean floor and turned the water an amber color.  It appeared as though everything had been killed by the sticky mess.  The sea floor was covered in dead marine organisms that had been suffocated by the molasses.  As the molasses breaks down, it pulls oxygen from the water.  Coral is also being harmed by the changed environment.

The spill is also posing several danger to humans.  Swimming is unadvisable as the dead fish floating on the surface of the harbor will play host to bacterial growth.  It is also expected that sharks and other predatory animals will enter the harbor to feed on the dead organisms.

It will take several weeks before the molasses is completely flushed out of the harbor by the tides.  In the meantime, the EPA has recommended the use of “air curtains” to oxygenate the water.  The corporation responsible for the mess, Matson, has no plans in place to ameliorate the crisis.

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Beautiful Keehi Lagoon Pre-Spill

Aquifers Found in Kenya Have Great Potential

Aquifers are underground permeable rocks, gravel, silt, or sand that hold freshwater. Aquifers are found at varying depths, with those closest to the surface of the Earth getting more rainfall.

In the Turkana region of Kenya, the ground appears dry and unpromising. However, test drilling has revealed the presence of several large aquifers first spotted by UNESCO using satellite images and radar.  This technology was originally being used to locate oil underground.

These massive pools of freshwater are well needed. Turkana is extremely dry and was hit by a severe drought last year.  The hope is that the freshwater will become available in one month but regional violence may make it difficult for the water to reach the people of Kenya.

It is vital that this water be used sustainably. “Over exploitation” is a danger, but with responsible usage, this water could improve many lives.

Kenya Desert

Kenya Desert