An overfished planet needs a better solution. Fortunately, it's coming.
- Cell-based fish companies are getting funding and making progress in offering a new wave of seafood.
- Overfishing and rising ocean temperatures are destroying entire ecosystems.
- The reality of cell-based fish is likely five to 10 years away.
Future of Food: This genetically engineered salmon may hit U.S. markets as early as 2020<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="466fe20063a2292a48789f370c04ea13"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bco7rPyKwec?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While cell-based beef is getting all the press, companies like BlueNalu recently raised $24.5 million in funding. The San Diego-based start-up <a href="https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/story/2019-12-25/lab-grown-fish-just-got-real-san-diego-startup-shows-off-first-slaughter-free-yellowtail#:~:text=A%20San%20Diego%20foodtech%20startup,many%20researchers%20only%20dream%20of" target="_blank">extracts</a> muscle cells from an anesthetized fish, treats the cells with enzymes in a culture, places the mixture in a nutrient solution in a bioreactor, spins it all around in a centrifuge, and finally 3D-prints the new concoction into the desired shape.</p><p>The goal isn't to perfectly replicate a fish that you'd find on ice in your local market. No brain, skin, organs, or even possibility of consciousness are in this creature. In a strange twist, this makes cell-based seafood a potential food source for vegetarians and vegans, since the Adam fish can be returned to the waters unharmed. </p><p>One current solution to overfishing—fish farms—comes with it a host of problems, including the proliferation of sea lice, which have a tendency to escape the porous boundaries to infect wild fish. Bonus: with cell-based fish, you won't run into any issues with mercury or <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/microplastics-soil" target="_self">microplastics</a>. </p><p>What you'll (hopefully) purchase is a good-tasting product, which has thus far been elusive. BlueNalu CEO, <a href="https://apnews.com/5327a2c3a8e74adab0cc63d5994ffc72" target="_blank">Lou Cooperhouse</a>, is confident his company's product will eventually meet standards set by your taste buds. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our medallions of yellowtail can be cooked via direct heat, steamed or even fried in oil; can be marinated in an acidified solution for applications like poke, ceviche, and kimchi, or can be prepared in the raw state."</p>
Photo: aleksandr / Shutterstock<p>There are barriers, of course. As with pluripotent meats, cell-based fish are expensive. A spicy salmon roll produced by the start-up, Wildtype, <a href="https://singularityhub.com/2020/09/16/this-startup-is-growing-sushi-grade-salmon-from-cells-in-a-lab/" target="_blank">cost $200</a> to make. It's going to take a while for the price to drop and consumer demand to rise; estimates are five to ten years.</p><p>Another issue is indicative of solar power and wind energy trying to cut in on Big Oil: the seafood industry doesn't want to lose its profit margin. Of course, like oil companies, Big Seafood is betting on a finite resource. The sooner they realize that, the better. </p><p>Then there's production, which is where education comes into play. Former BlueNalu Chairman Chris Somogyi tries to <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/05/05/720041152/seafood-without-the-sea-will-lab-grown-fish-hook-consumers" target="_blank">demystify</a> the laboratory process. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We aren't using CRISPR technology. We aren't introducing new molecules into the diet. We're not introducing a new entity that doesn't exist in nature. The approval will be about whether this is safe, clean and are the manufacturing processes reliable and accountable."</p><p>If there's an ick factor to cell-based fish, remember that most processed foods are already created in laboratories. There are no Oreo trees or ketchup plants to harvest. </p><p>For now, these start-ups and others like them will have to figure out how to create non-energy-intensive and cost-prohibitive solutions for spinning up seafood inside of a petri dish. Novelty alone will create enough demand to get them going, as <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/04/beyond-meat-bynd-q2-2020-earnings.html#:~:text=Net%20sales%20rose%2069%25%20to,since%20many%20are%20temporarily%20shuttered." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">precedent</a> in the lab-grown meat industry shows. </p><p>The reality is that we need to go down this path. There are too many humans and not enough resources. While we can hope (as David Attenborough does in his <a href="https://www.netflix.com/title/80216393" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new Netflix documentary</a>) that national governments will create more no-fish zones, there's no guarantee that will happen. We need science to win this one. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Sharks fear killer whales. How does this impact the ecosystems they share?
- A new study finds that sharks will flee areas they met orcas in for up to a year.
- Killer whales are known to eat sharks, but it is unknown if the sharks are fleeing because they know that too.
- The discovery will change our understanding of how marine ecosystems evolve.
The true apex predator<p>The study, titled "Killer whales redistribute white shark foraging pressure on seals," results from years of investigations into the movements and behavior of 165 tagged great white sharks, observations and records of killer whale movements, and information on seal populations off the coast of California. They also looked to previous descriptions of shark and whale interactions to give context to their findings.</p><p>The sharks immediately turned tail and fled in every time they crossed paths with orcas. They'd also stay away from that place long afterward. Only <em>one </em>observed shark dared venture back to where it had just encountered the whales, and it didn't stick around. Most of the sharks merely fled a bit further up the coastline, while others went much further out to sea to avoid the whales. </p>
Why are they doing this?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="14ccb270e8cc6888b69118539a29b63b"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B7GHCJXwLw8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Orcas have been known to eat great whites. The remains of the sharks are a grotesque sight to behold and are always missing their <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/killer-whales-orcas-eat-great-white-sharks/#:~:text=By%20Emma%20Rigney&text=In%20October%201997%2C%20tourists%20in,killer%20whales%20eating%20white%20sharks." target="_blank">livers</a>, no matter how much else remains or is missing. If the orcas have discovered a source of Chianti to pair with them or not remains unknown at this <a href="https://youtu.be/bHoqL7DFevc?t=28" target="_blank">time</a>.</p><p>However, we don't currently know if the sharks are fleeing because they understand that risk, because they knew the orcas would fight them for the same food supply, because whales look big and scary to them, or some combination of the three.</p><p>Before this gets too frightening, there are no known cases of wild orcas killing <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale_attack" target="_blank">humans</a>, and only a few examples of injuries being caused by these interactions. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/orcas-and-stress" target="_blank">Orcas kept in tiny boxes</a> for long periods can be a bit more violent, but that's another story. </p>
These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.
- Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
- They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
- Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
A. Anterior view of the whale shark, showing the locations of the eye (arrows). Note that whale shark eye is well projected from the orbit. Photo was taken in the sea near Saint Helena Island. B. Close-up view of the left eye of a captive whale shark (Specimen A).<p>Considering their dietary habits, vision was not thought be that important for whale sharks. This species is unique for not having any sort of eyelid or protective mechanism—until now, that is. Not only do dermal denticles protect their vision, the team, led by Taketeru Tomita, discovered that whale sharks have another trick:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We also demonstrate that the whale shark has a strong ability to retract the eyeball into the eye socket."</p><p>The researchers studied these massive sharks in an aquarium, offering them a rare look at one of the ocean's largest fish (They also studied deceased sharks). The eye denticle is different from the rest of the scales covering their body: they are designed for abrasion resistance, not ocean stealth. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The covering of the eye surface with denticles in the whale shark is probably useful in reducing the risk of mechanical damage to the eye surface." </p><p>Despite their massive size, whale sharks have relatively small eyes, measuring less than 1 percent of their total length. Their brain's visual center is also relatively small. With this discovery, the researchers realized vision plays a more important role than previously assumed. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The highly protected features of the whale shark eye, in contrast to the traditional view, seems to suggest the importance of vision in this species. Interestingly, Martin showed that whale shark eyes actively track divers swimming 3–5 m away from the animal, suggesting that vision of the whale shark plays an important role in short-range perception." </p><p>While you likely won't bump into a whale shark while swimming just off the coast, this is yet another reminder of how species adapt to their environment. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Scientists are befuddled by where the shark gets most of its food.
- A University of Sydney research team found that the great white shark spends an unexpectedly large amount of time feeding close to the sea bed.
- The group examined the contents in the stomachs of 40 juvenile white sharks and found the remains of a variety of fish species that typically inhabit the sea floor or are buried in the sand.
- The scientists hope that the information gained from this research will assist conservation and management efforts for the species.