Getting to the Heart of Oil Spill Impacts on Gulf Fish

UC Riverside’s Daniel Schlenk is a co-principal investigator on first study to directly measure cardiac output of oil-exposed fish in the Gulf of Mexico

Mahi-mahi juveniles. Photo credit: John Stieglitz.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The University of California, Riverside is a member of the consortium “Relationships of Effects of Cardiac Outcomes in fish for Validation of Ecological Risk” (RECOVER) that integrates studies at the molecular and cellular level of organization with whole animal physiology and behavior at different life stages for two important Gulf of Mexico predatory fishes: the coastal redfish and the pelagic mahi-mahi.

RECOVER recently received funding of nearly $9 million for three years from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study coastal redfish and offshore mahi-mahi, two commercially and recreationally important Gulf fish.  UCR will receive nearly $835,000 of the total funding.

Photo shows Daniel Schlenk.

Daniel Schlenk is a professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside.

“The study will investigate whether the oil-exposed fish recover, and to the best of our knowledge, is the first study to directly measure cardiac output of fish exposed to oil,” said Daniel Schlenk, a professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside and a co-principal investigator on the project.  “The heart is a site of impact where even slight impairments can have far-reaching and potentially fatal effects. We at UCR will identify the molecular mechanisms of action for cardiac toxicity in the developing embryos of the two predatory fishes.”

The consortium will combine sophisticated molecular approaches with state-of-the-art whole animal physiology methods.  For example, the researchers will analyze cardiac function in fish embryos using high-speed video imaging to capture the heart contracting and expanding as it beats. After embryonic exposures, the researchers will surgically implant probes in atrial vessels of older fish to collect real-time measurements of blood flow from the heart to the gills as the fish swim at increasing velocities. Because swimming efficiency may be affected in oil-exposed fish, the RECOVER investigators will tag fish tails with florescent markers and use high-speed video cameras to capture and digitize tail movement.

At UC Riverside, Schlenk will be joined on the project by Elvis Xu, a postdoctoral researcher, and Graciel Diamante, a PhD student. Besides UCR, the RECOVER consortium includes the lead institution, University of Miami, as well as the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of North Texas.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization, and remediation technologies.

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