fight harmful mussels
American Chemical Society
Posted on Biology News Net on February 1, 2006
British researchers have developed a "biobullet"
that could help control an invasive mollusk that has ravaged
U.S. waterways for nearly two decades clogging water pipes,
virtually wiping out some native mussels species and causing
billions of dollars in industrial damage. The new microcapsules,
which contain toxins that dissolve within a zebra mussel's
digestive tract, offer a safe and cost-effective way of
eliminating one of the world's "most important economic
pests" without harming other aquatic life, according
to scientists at the University of Cambridge.
The report, in the Feb. 1 issue of the American Chemical
Society's Environmental Science & Technology journal,
outlines how zoologist David Aldridge and colleagues developed
microcapsules about the size of the algae particles that
zebra mussels feed on. Once ingested, the "biobullets"
slowly release small amounts of potassium chloride, a
salt that is poisonous to most freshwater mollusks. Unlike
other methods used to eradicate zebra mussels, such as
chlorine, "biobullets" pose little or no threat
to other marine animals, the researchers say, because
they rapidly degrade and disperse in water.
Since their accidental introduction from Eastern Europe
into the Great Lakes in the late 1980s, zebra mussels
have become notorious aquatic pests, fouling water intake
pipes at hydroelectric stations, nuclear power plants
and industrial facilities. In addition, zebra mussels
can anchor themselves to other mollusks, making it impossible
for native species to thrive. In some case, as many as
10,000 zebra mussels have attached themselves to a single
native mussel, according to the U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS). In all, the researchers note, coping with these
pests costs upward of $5 billion annually.
Without many natural predators, zebra mussels have rapidly
spread and are now found in 21 states including Oklahoma,
Louisiana and Vermont, according to the USGS. Unchecked,
many scientists suspect zebra mussels will soon spread
throughout North American waterways.