Scientist to resurrect water fleas from U.S. nuclear fallout zone

NEWS RELEASE 12-AUG-2020

UTA examining evolutionary effects of nuclear testing on preserved water flea eggs

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON

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IMAGE: MATTHEW WALSH, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY AT UT ARLINGTON view more CREDIT: THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON

A researcher of The University of Texas at Arlington could soon uncover the evolutionary effects of nuclear testing by resurrecting decades-old crustaceans.

Matthew Walsh, an associate professor of biology, traveled to Utah this summer to collect sediment cores containing the preserved eggs of Daphnia, or water fleas, from lakes in the fallout zone of nuclear testing done in the United States in the 1950s.

Each layer of the sediment core represents a distinct time period and contains a generation of water flea eggs that sunk to the lake floor. Walsh will hatch the eggs and measure the viability and traits of water fleas from before, during and after nuclear testing took place.

“We have no real experimental sense of the long-term evolutionary impacts of nuclear testing, only the common belief of nuclear-induced mutation,” Walsh said. “This process allows us to look at nuclear genetic impacts across decades, study their effects in real time and provide new insights into whether any nuclear-induced mutations degrade over time.”

Walsh is a co-principal investigator on a $200,000 EAGER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that supports this project. NSF’s EAGER program was designed specifically for potentially transformative or exploratory research that investigates new subjects, different methods or interdisciplinary approaches.

The two-year EAGER grant overlaps with the remaining two years of Walsh’s five-year, $600,000 grant from the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program, for which he is also using Daphnia resurrection to address long-standing questions in evolutionary biology.

“In my doctoral studies, I became interested in the water flea as a vessel of investigation–they’re faster, smaller and easier to work with in a lab, and the concept of resurrection is just remarkably cool,” Walsh said. “It has been a longstanding goal of mine to leverage Daphnia in this way.”

Clay Clark, chair of the Department of Biology, said Walsh’s studies bolster the University’s portfolio in investigating and protecting the global environment.

“Not only is Matt’s use of resurrection a fascinating concept, but it stands to uncover a wealth of information about how the impact of human actions on our environment can or might affect generations to come,” Clark said. “Evidence uncovered through work like this can help make us better stewards of our earthly community and resources.”

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From EurekAlert!

31 thoughts on “Scientist to resurrect water fleas from U.S. nuclear fallout zone

  1. Mutation due to nuclear bomb testing? Hatch water flea eggs recovered from the test radiation fallout zone? I saw this movie once, it doesn’t end well.

    • From Spiderman’s “radioactive spider bite” to Jane Fonda’s meltdown to China, the anti-nuclear propaganda has never let up. The so-called “peace symbol”, AKA the Track of the American Chicken, was originally an anti-nuclear symbol. The useful idiots were in the streets screaming about it. Just like today. Different symbolic emotion stirrers, same plan. Same masters behind the scenes.

      Anything that promises prosperity for all is a deadly enemy to those whose very existence depends on class warfare. No downtrodden, easily aroused peon class, no revolution.

      Thus the “linear no threshold” model and endless whining about nuclear exposure that is less than a banana or a day on a black sand beach. Or an airplane flight. Or a few months in the life of a basement dweller.

      Where are the Godzillas of Chernobyl???

      I’ve seen it all my life, having been born not long after the flight of the Enola Gay. They were still setting off nuclear weapons not far away in Nevada when I was a toddler. Somehow I don’t have superpowers, giantosis or cancer.

      To quote the (sarcastic) bumper sticker from the 60s: NUKE THE WHALES.

      • If you want to freak out your friends just put a scintillometer on some bananas. Humans evolved in the prescence of radiation, so some is no problem.

        • Prometheum, one of the rare earth elements, essentially doesn’t exist (very long), being made up entirely of radioactive isotopes. It is produced from radioactive decay of Uranium and a little bit from natural decay of a radioactive isotope of Europium, another rare earth element. PM is used in luminescent coatings and is the lovely ghostly green glow of Star Wars swords and the same made for kiddies to play with. Two other such ‘vanished’ natural elements exist, Technetium (Tc- at. No. 43) is produced by neutron irradiation of its neighbor, Molybdenum. It is used in medical diagnostics – radioactive tracers. Francium (Fr at. No 223) is highly radioactive, half life of its longest lasting isotope 22 minutes, produced by neutron irradiation of Radium. No uses and highly dangerous. PM and Tc, however put BS to the zero exposure. Oh yeah- even a teaspoon of dirt contains radioactive elements.

        • Ron – measuring K-40 beta emissions from bananas should be done with a Geiger-Mueller (G-M) tube. Liquid scintillation machines will measure beta emissions, but typical solid scintillators do not. The cheapest, simplest and most dramatic way to measure K-40 is with a G-M pancake probe, hooked to a Geiger counter, looking at a small dish of KCl which is sold in the grocery store as salt substitute. Morton makes this salt substitute. Bananas have a lot of other chemicals that readily absorb the K-40 beta emission thus the measurement will be weak. Because it is a purer form of K, a dish of KCl will easily give a 4X background reading. It then is simple to state that the healthy K we get from bananas also has 0.0118 % of NATURAL K-40. I love to emphasize the word natural just because so many people have been brainwashed to think everything natural is good.
          C-14 is another n

        • The simplest, cheapest and most dramatic way to demonstrate K-40 is to use KCl (salt) which can be found in the grocery store as salt substitute. Morton makes this. Pour a little into a small dish then use a pancake G-M tube with a Geiger counter to measure. Typically you will get a 4X background reading. I would also use this to demonstrate how easy it is to stop beta emissions just by sticking a piece of cardboard between the salt and the detector. K-40 makes up 0.0118 % of all naturally occurring potassium. Despite that low percentage, K-40 is readily detected with this method. It is difficult and expensive to detect K-40 in bananas because of all the other elements within bananas which help to stop the beta emissions.

          It is useful to be aware that one click from a Geiger represents one atom. ( For those who fully understand radiation detection, this is a simplified statement for the average public consumption which ignores all the lovely nuances of radiation detection).

    • I loved all the B&W nuclear scare movies form the 50’s, “Them”, giant ants and another one where a soldier runs up to a trashcan, lifts the lid and yells “It’s full of nuclear waste!”, tosses a grenade in to the can, slams the lid down, he runs off and you then hear the grenade go off! We are left to assume the grenade destroyed the waste.

  2. How will they know if the variation between water flea hatchlings is natural of nuclear fallout induced?
    How will they determine if the variation is a positive mutation or a negative one?

    • controls from lakes not contaminated.
      the fallout contaminated cores will have traces of plutonium corresponding with each test plume.

    • How will they determine if the variation is a positive mutation or a negative one?

      They probably won’t.

      Walsh will hatch the eggs and measure the viability …

      So, try to hatch eggs from the different layers. If the eggs from the nuclear affected layer are more or less viable than those from the surrounding layers, you have some kind of correlation between nuclear fallout and egg viability.

      Anyway, the vast majority of mutations are negative and result in the organism not surviving. Evolution tries many many experiments and very occasionally gets lucky. Even if you get an organism that can survive in the lab, you have no idea whether it can survive in the wild.

    • 800k will find something and the politics of what way the results lean will be “interesting”

      • “ozspeaksup August 13, 2020 at 6:37 am

        800k will find something…”

        When I lived in New Zealand I did some work for the Department of Conservation. One of their projects I was aware of was to move 1000 native worms from a road project site just north of Wellington. They spent NZ$800k doing it. I admit, it was 20 years ago, but you get the point.

  3. Hopefuly they will take precautions. The eggs will hatch into 6 feet tall acid excreting monsters which lay their eggs in your abdomen to hatch.

    • They won’t actually hurt anyone except for those too weak to remove lint from their navel, but fear of them will create a panic and plunge the globe into further stupidity.

  4. There are many examples of the proper course of science getting deflected when unqualified people can get to use measurement equipment that can detect way, way less than ambient levels. The whole field of radioactivity has become the stuff of science fiction because Geiger counters were so sensitive.
    Sadly, qualified scientists have also fallen into this trap. For example, the ability to measure tiny amounts of lead (Pb) in natural human materials has led to all sorts of pseudo-science correlations, like the postulated harm to the IQ of babies.
    So yes, finding tiny traces of plutonium is another candidate for false correlations of this and that, when causation needs to be first established.
    We are currently being overwhelmed by stable isotope work, again down to very low levels of detection. All sorts of temperature assignments to past events are gushing forth based on scientifically untestable assumptions about Oxygen 18 ratios in proxy materials from the past.
    It is a benefit that analytical chemistry have steadily improved the detection limits of a large range of elements and compounds. It us a harm that (often) non-chemists use these sensitivities to venture into dangerous fields of investigation without proper grounding in the huge scope for error. Geoff S

    • Well said.

      Humans have been surrounded by all kinds of things that can kill us and as a species have adapted pretty darn well. In fact, we do much better being exposed to some of these over our lifetime to keep the immune system running. Our liver also does a pretty good job chemically speaking in handling the nasties.

      But the Guardian, BBC, CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WP etc have to have eyeballs or they will disappear.

    • I know exactly what you are describing and it’s the lack of proper grounding that is the problem. I saw a couple of videos of police using overwhelming force to subdue people for not wearing masks in Melbourne. Proper grounding seems to be lacking.

    • Geoff, a friend, alarmed about drinking contaminated water from plastic bottles cited a study that bottles stored for more than a month were found to contain 2ppm antimony (Sb) which is used as a catalyst in the making of the plastic. I informed him that the sun is 15 trillion centimeters from earth, that 1.0 ppt of the distance was therefore 15cm and that 2ppt was one foot along your journey to the sun. I also informed him that Antimony Sulphate used by the spoonful was a common treatment for the parasite causing Leischmaniasis for about a century.

  5. “Walsh is a co-principal investigator on a $200,000 EAGER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that supports this project. NSF’s EAGER program was designed specifically for potentially transformative or exploratory research that investigates new subjects, different methods or interdisciplinary approaches.”

    Sounds good, but I would be EAGER to see something that was done for strictly its own sake. Curiousity.
    “Not only is Matt’s use of resurrection a fascinating concept, but it stands to uncover a wealth of information about how the impact of human actions on our environment can or might affect generations to come,” Clark [Department Chair] said. “Evidence uncovered through work like this can help make us better stewards of our earthly community and resources.” They did a lot of biological research long ago about the subject back before saving the world was paramount. An example– Shelby, C. A. 1963. Radioactive fallout in Sargassum drift on Texas Gulf coast beaches. Publications of the Institute of Marine Science of the University of Texas. 9:33-36.

  6. “We have … only the common belief of nuclear-induced mutation”. “This process (can) provide new insights into whether any nuclear-induced mutations degrade over time.”
    Seems like he may be trying to dispel the Godzilla myth, not reinforce it.

  7. “Better stewards of our earthly community and resources ….” Let me see. ..
    Yep D .Mackenzie you cracked it.

  8. So Giant Radioactive Mutant Zombie Water Fleas will rampage through the cities and knock down skyscrapers.

    Mark my words. We’re doomed.

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