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Seven years later: BP oil spill settlement funding new way to manage fish populations

Researchers extracting DNA from fish eggs

Date:
April 20, 2017
Source:
University of South Florida (USF Health)
Summary:
Understanding the severity of the BP oil spill has led researchers to a barcoding fish eggs. This will help them to determine where fish are spawning, hopefully leading toward the creation of protected areas and a baseline should another oil spill occur.
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Marine biologist Mya Breitbart holds a vial of fish eggs collected in the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: University of South Florida photographer Ryan Noone

More than 30,000 fish species exist. But it's always been a guessing game on where they originate. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science is paving the way in discovering where a wide-range of species spawn. It's a difficult task as 95% of fish in the world release their eggs into the water and drift away.

Marine biologists are gathering samples of hundreds of free-floating fish eggs in the Gulf of Mexico. They then extract DNA from each one and amplify and sequence a specific barcoding gene. That gene is then compared to a database, revealing the fish's identity. Previous studies have looked for eggs belonging to a specific fish species. This work is groundbreaking as it determines the complete composition of fish egg communities, which could contain more than a dozen species.

"This is pioneering work. They can be underneath everyone's noses for decades and no one would know it, they just get called fish eggs they have no idea what species they are," says co-lead investigator Ernst Peebles.

Since the fish eggs are only a few hours old, this technique allows researchers to assign spawning locations with certainty, as opposed to methods of looking for older larvae which could have been floating in the ocean for weeks or even months. Identifying spawning sites will enable better management and protection of critical habitats for economically and ecologically important fish species in the Gulf of Mexico.

This innovative research is a positive outcome from the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It's funded by the RESTORE Act, an acronym for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States. In addition to the 2-year pilot study, USF researchers are competing to win funds for an additional 15 years of monitoring and special studies.

The results could provide an essential baseline of fish spawning habitats in the Gulf of Mexico, which is critical knowledge should another disaster occur.


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Materials provided by University of South Florida (USF Health). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University of South Florida (USF Health). "Seven years later: BP oil spill settlement funding new way to manage fish populations: Researchers extracting DNA from fish eggs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420090303.htm>.
University of South Florida (USF Health). (2017, April 20). Seven years later: BP oil spill settlement funding new way to manage fish populations: Researchers extracting DNA from fish eggs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420090303.htm
University of South Florida (USF Health). "Seven years later: BP oil spill settlement funding new way to manage fish populations: Researchers extracting DNA from fish eggs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420090303.htm (accessed May 25, 2017).

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