Hudson River Fish Evolve To Handle PCBs

There is now a fish that has evolved immunity to PCB's. PCB is a substance designed to use as an insulator in high-heat electrical equipment (like the transformers used in the electrical grid, or household radios and such). It is very bad for the environment, was taken out of use years ago, but the thing is, because it was designed to stand up to very tough conditions, it does not break down naturally. I grew up not far from where most of them seem to have been made, and was actually involved in some of the cleanup.

So, today, it is interesting to read about this fish:

Bottom-feeding fish in the Hudson River have developed a gene that renders them immune to the toxic effects of PCBs, researchers say.

A genetic variant allows the fish to live in waters notoriously polluted by the now-banned industrial chemicals, and distinguishes the fish--Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod)--as one of the world's fastest evolving populations.

"This is very, very raÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂpid evolutionary change," said Isaac Wirgin, an environmental toxicologist at New York University's School of Medicine, and the study's lead investigator. "Normally you think of evolution occurring in thousands to millions of years. You're talking about all this occurring in 20 to 50 generations maybe."

Read the rest HERE.

... and compare it to this, which did not end well.

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KotSL, you're demonstrating your lack of education about evolution. Evolution predicts change under selection pressure (among other things). Greater selection pressure, like what we see here, would be expected to lead to more rapid change.

Speciation would be expected to happen with groups under different selection pressures, or sometimes simply separation that doesn't allow genes to mix between the groups. It's simply the term for groups that have diverged enough through the course of evolutionary change that it is reasonable to give them different names. Whether these fish are now a different species than their ancestors is something for those who like to classify things to argue over.

Blimey, you've got one here. Ignorant in the way only the deliberately iignorant can be, dogmatic and utterly quaint. Tell you what, Loiny, tell us which bits of the Bible are literal and which metaphorical and I'll buy you a ham sandwich.

However, the vision of fish evolving to handle Printed Circuit Boards had me reeling- can they do surface mount, do they do wave soldering? I can't think IR reflow would work in the Hudson, and hand soldering is out (unless they've evolved hands...). I'm looking for someone who can do QFNs and BGAs, so here's a job for them if the price is right!

By Jack Sprocket (not verified) on 14 Sep 2011 #permalink

They are very close to being different species. The novel gene exists in most Hudson River Microgadus and is rare in other populations of Microgadus that are from nearby river systems. Yet, the fish breed at sea in overlapping breeding grounds. There is a reasonable argument that there is selective isolation happening here because of this gene or other genes.

I think it should be called Microgadus simpsononus

Greg, you just created a nomen nudum, which is an unavailable name.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 15 Sep 2011 #permalink

I'm not sure, but I think Loins here is a poe, and rather a trollish one.

I think Soiled Loincloth is actually a fish that evolved the capacity to use a computer and bitch about things it doesn't understand.

By Drivebyposter (not verified) on 15 Sep 2011 #permalink

exactly what mystery of the universe does the bible explain.not a single one.that document is a complete waste of trees.why would an entity like god need such a thing to express herself.a simple question like this takes you out.

This is very cool! Slightly disturbing, too -- we've affected the environment enough to be a significant selective pressure. But it's also something of a relief that the results aren't all bad. It speaks to life's resilience. We might screw this world up to the point where we are no longer fit to live in it, but life will go on.

(And by the way, in case the Keeper of the Sacred Loincloth isn't just a Poe, adaptation *is* evolution, if it's heritable. It doesn't have to be a new species for evolution to have occurred. Evolution has to happen before a new species can exist, so that objection is putting the cart entirely before the horse.)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 15 Sep 2011 #permalink

Calli Arcale.Well said a Plumbers hands " evolve " become hard because of the type of work, but his/her children do not inherit that it is not genetic, so we have Adaptive evolution, and that allows Species to develop, but as yet we have not seen cross species evolution, that is why Science is still looking for the " Missing Links ".

By Eagle Averro (not verified) on 15 Sep 2011 #permalink

Calli, there is a major down side (see the link I provide for "not turned out well") This species of fish is one of the main sources of white sea fish meat in the region. (It is a kind of cod). PCB's ingested by fish stay in the tissue. Now, we hae a super-fish that can build up even more PCB than the other fish because it survives the highest doses.

Also, this is a sea fish that spends much of its young life in estuaries (The part of the hudson that is most affected overlaps with the part of the hudson that is an estuary) If the PCB's simply went out to sea and spread out that may not be as bad. But instead the tenaciousness stick to the bottom where they are integrated into small animal life that the baby cod then feed on.

So actually the cod industry in the Hudson Trench and along New Jersy and Long Island needs to be evaluated and possibly shut down. Just guessing, but that is what I would worry about.

Keeper of the Sacred Loincloth..."trillions of years"? The universe isn't that old.
And what equation is God in anyway? The Bible can't even get pi right.

That last post that is supposed to be by me, is not. I'm assuming it was soiled loincloth who uh...sort of hijacked my name for a moment. Worst of all, they did a very poor job of it. And the name links to prisonplanet.

Greg, could you delete the last comment under my name? I'm sure the IP will match loincloth's or at the very least not match mine...though mine probably switches around frequently. Thanks.

By Drivebyposter (not verified) on 15 Sep 2011 #permalink

I'm quite familiar with tomcod. They are very cute little fish that are native to the estuaries of coastal Maine and Massachusetts. They are also called 'frost-fish' because they swim up river to spawn in the dead of winter and are often caught along with rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) in 'smelt camps' on the lower Kennebec River in Maine. What the story does not say is whether the animals and fish that eat PCB-contaminated tomcod, like osprey or bald eagles or striped bass, have evolved ways to make the PCBs non-toxic. If not, it is even worse. What say ye?

Again, that last post is not by me.

By Drivebyposter (not verified) on 16 Sep 2011 #permalink

Evolution Denier, I just deleted every single one of your comments going all the way back.

Drivebyposter, sorry that happened to you. It might take a while for his comments to all disappear because there were quite a few of them, and I had to press the "rebuild the site" button.

Everybody else, if you take another commenter's name and use it, you are persona non gratis here. Not that you would, but still.... I can't believe I actually have to say this. Jeesh.

Thanks for fixing it Greg. No need to apologize, it was outside of your control and you addressed the problem promptly. Thank you again.

And about the fish...
Is this fish problem more or less permanent? Or would cleaning up the PCB and reintroducing non-PCB resistant fish more or less solve the problem?

By Drivebyposter (not verified) on 16 Sep 2011 #permalink

There is really no way to clean up the PCBs is the trouble. Only way to get at the problem is to dredge the river, which will cause a massive exposure spike. As it is, the PCBs are mostly bound up in the sediment and not causing immediate problems, at least nothing compared to the scale of problems a dredging program would create.

Some outside the box thinking = use the PCB resistant fish as PCB sponges. Introduce them, let them bioaccumulate the stuff, catch em and incinerate them.

@douglas watts; that's a really good point. This resistance gene could create many more problems than it solves if the result is making a stronger ecological link between the contaminated sediment to more sensitive species via the tomcod. Really a huge problem when you get down to it.

Years ago I worked on the construction of a kiln that would insinerate the PCB's. It was built on an island right in the hotspot on the river for PCB's. I am pretty sure the PCB's were dredged out of that part of the river to reduce their density. However, that was literally right outside the plant where not dredging them up would mean a thousand years of seepage.

Otherwise they are everywhere along the thalweg of that river, at density, for dozens of miles below the plant.

I don't think having the PCB adaptation itself is a problem.

Over two or three trophic levels, the PCB is concentrated, but I do wonder if the tomcod initially disperse the PCB. It depends on what they are eating. And, I'd like to know if the inverts the cod are eating have a similar PCB-tolerant gene!

Here in Michigan we have multiple problems. Rivers around Midland (Tittabawassee River near Midland, in particular)has been contaminated with PCBs (thanks Dow Chemical). Dredging seems to be the primary response, but it's been going on for some time.
Locally (Kalamazoo/Portage and surrounding areas) we have the legacy of multiple paper mills to deal with: the Kalamazoo River and a bit of Portage Creek are contaminated with PCBs. Most of the mills are closed (have been for many years to several years), so getting funds from the companies for cleanup is a struggle. Dredging is still going on.
Sadly, it seems that a good part of the legacy of economic boom is contaminated land, water, and wildlife.

As soon as the Pcp's were disturbed the water smell of the hudson River changes and the Shad and the Herring did not recognize this different "smelling" river as a place to lay eggs.

Check Black creek in Ulster County. The "Herring are gone."

This pcp dreging is minor compared to the "fiasco" we will see with "The Marcellus shale fracking."

By John Delano (not verified) on 23 Sep 2011 #permalink