"Scary": Scientists find evidence of “bizarre sickness” in phytoplankton and bacterial communities


The Search for BP's Oil, Naomi Klein for The Nation, January 13, 2011:

Among [scientists'] most striking findings are graveyards of recently deceased coral, oiled crab larvae, evidence of bizarre sickness in the phytoplankton and bacterial communities, and a mysterious brown liquid coating large swaths of the ocean floor, snuffing out life underneath. All are worrying signs that the toxins that invaded these waters are not finished wreaking havoc and could, in the months and years to come, lead to consequences as severe as commercial fishery collapses and even species extinction. ...

Back at the [University of South Florida] lab, John Paul, a professor of biological oceanography, introduced healthy bacteria and phytoplankton to those water samples and watched what happened. What he found shocked him. In water from almost half of the locations, the responses of the organisms "were genotoxic or mutagenic"—which means the oil and dispersants were not only toxic to these organisms but caused changes to their genetic makeup. Changes like these could manifest in a number of ways: tumors and cancers, inability to reproduce, a general weakness that would make these organisms more susceptible to prey—or something way weirder.

Before we left on the [December] cruise, I interviewed Paul in his lab; he explained that what was so "scary" about these results is that such genetic damage is "heritable," meaning the mutations can be passed on.

3 comments to "Scary": Scientists find evidence of “bizarre sickness” in phytoplankton and bacterial communities

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