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Science&Technology

wednesDAY, january 25, 2012 5

Marine life impacted by 2007 oil spill

Fitness scams

Severe abnormalities point to phototoxicity from San Francisco Bay By ERIC C. LIPSKY Aggie Science Writer

In 2007, the San Francisco Bay area fell victim to an event called the Cosco Busan oil spill. While the amount of oil spilled was relatively small, the effects on the marine life were anything but minor. Researchers from UC Davis and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted experiments to see the effects that the oil spill had on the marine life in the area, and found that herring embryos showed severe abnormalities. “We did careful assessments to see whether abnormalities were present,” said Gary Cherr, professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis. “We found swollen hearts and irregular heart rhythms in the areas affected by the oil.” Cherr said that the oil spill of about 54,000 gallons was about the size of a backyard swimming pool. “We had a range of very different locations for sampling; some were urban and some were not,” Cherr said. “Surprisingly, the embryos naturally spawned in intertidal zones were dead; they were dissolving, almost unrecognizable as embryos.” Cherr said that the embryos in the unaffected water were fine; meanwhile, the embryos that spawned in the oiled waters were victim to the worst effects. He said

they placed embryos near more urban areas, such as the I-580 Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, as a reference point to see if pollution was a factor in the abnormalities. The embryos by the bridge did not show the severe abnormalities, suggesting that the oil was the culprit. He said that the cause of the severe abnormalities found in the herring can be attributed to phototoxicity, which is when a chemical leaves an organism much more sensitive to light. “Oil compounds can be much more toxic in the presence of sunlight,” Cherr said. “This was a situation where you had the embryos in very shallow water and sunlight, so it was a classic example of phototoxicity.” Cherr said that the herring still showed some very significant developmental abnormalities in 2009 and 2010. “Concentrations of oil that weren’t lethal became lethal as a result of sunlight,” Cherr said. John Incardona, supervisory research toxicologist at NOAA, said he was dumbfounded several weeks later, when seeing the results of the natural spawning in oiled sites. “We were trying to understand what was happening, we were expecting to see subtle differences in their hearts,” Incardona said. “It took a lot of thinking to figure out what could be causing the abnormali-

that phrase the tagline of this column). The fact is, it’s uncommon to lose very much weight when a person first Amy starts a fitness regimen unStewart less they have a great deal of weight to lose. Exercise alone doesn’t do much for weight loss; you may improve how capable you are of losing weight, but if you’re eating too many calories, the weight will stay on. That’s not to say you won’t receive any benefit t was three in the morn- from exercise alone. Even if you never lose a pound, the ing, and once again I benefit to your heart health couldn’t sleep. As I usuis well worth the effort. The ally do when I can’t sleep, problem is that improved I turned on the TV and heart health doesn’t exactly flipped to the most boring have the same boost to the program I could find. ego as weight loss and isn’t Since it was three in as easily visibly apparent. the morning, I ended up There’s another probwatching infomercials. lem that advocates of long, “Are you ready for the intensive exercise have to INSANITY challenge?!?” “I took the challenge and deal with, especially in people who weren’t particularlost 40 pounds!” ly fit at the start — injury. “You’ll be in the best On a bioshape of mechaniyour life!” ... avoid late-night fitness DVD cal level, an Ah, the fitness inscams and the pounds will start injury happens when fomercial. coming off, right? the load apI wouldn’t plied to a normally tissue, such want to covas a muscle, exceeds its failer a product like this in a science column, but some- ure tolerance. If the failtimes a useful way of figur- ure tolerance of a muscle is low (especially if you ing out the good science is haven’t tried a regular exercomparing it to the bad. cise regimen before), then This one is particularit’s far easier to surpass that ly bad. Essentially, the breaking point. “Insanity” work out consists of two months of high- Even interval training can cause injury if you aren’t intensity exercise six days careful. It’s even easier to per week, with short pereach the point of injuring riods of moderate exeryourself if you purposely try cise between work outs as a rest. This sort of plan may to get close to your breaking work if you’re already fairly point, as the Insanity work out advocates. in shape, but the infomercial and the before-and-af- A mistake in a work out is more likely than peoter pictures on their webple think. Yes, perseversite show that they’re taring through mild discomgeting people who don’t fort is important to fitnormally exercise (the beness. When the body is fore-and-after pics also showed that they apparent- doing something completely new that requires ly offered free tanning sereffort, it takes practice vices to one of the clients, but that’s beside the point). to make exercise normal. Muscle soreness is a com Obviously, they didn’t mon side effect. However, talk much to fitness sci“just push through the entists before developing their plan; when there’s pain” is how you go from mild discomfort to an inmoney to be made from jury that delays your work people’s insecurities, who would? According to a 2007 out goals more than pacing yourself could have study from the University delayed you. of Guelph, the most effec It’s easy to see where the tive way to become more logic is coming from in fit and lose fat is interval training, a method in which this fitness plan. It makes sense on the surface to say, short bursts of intense ac“Well, a moderate work out tivity is interspersed with is good, but I’m not losing longer stretches of modermuch weight. If I work out ate exercise. In the study, both inexperienced people even harder, I should lose more weight!” and athletes were able to benefit from interval train- Unfortunately, becoming ing over intensive training, fit is a slow, frustrating proespecially in cardiovascular cess that probably won’t be health. They also increased solved by $145 in DVDs of a ripped guy yelling at you the amount of fat burned to “push it.” It will take the during the work out comdiscipline to change your pared to constant intense diet, the patience to realexercise. ize you’ll probably only lose So, add interval trainabout two pounds per week ing to that New Year’s resolution you made a month and the realization that ago, avoid late-night fitness the benefit to your health DVD scams and the pounds extends beyond simple weight loss. will start coming off, right? Well, as usual, it’s a little more complicated than AMY STEWART can be reached at science@ theaggie.org. that (I should just make

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Fish embryos are harmed by light reacting with bunker oil. ties we were seeing.” Bunker oil is thought to be the contributor to the effects observed in the herring. “Bunker oil is more chemically complicated than crude oil. Crude oil goes to the refinery, where the lighter products are taken off; the concentrated part goes into bunker oil,” Incardona said. Incardona said that they weren’t really thinking of phototoxicity as a factor because they had never seen effects like these. He said that phototoxicity had mainly been talked about in lab settings, but that this was the first time where they had seen it demonstrated. “It’s similar to how somebody takes a drug and becomes sensitive to sunlight. There is something in bunker oil that causes more damage to the tissues,” Incardona said. “All we know is that bunker oil has more of it.” Carol Vines, assistant project scientist at the

UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, also said the results were surprising. “There were huge mortality rates in the embryos in the oil-affected area. The mortality rate was almost 100 percent; it was shocking,” Vines said. Vines said that in addition to swollen hearts and irregular heartbeats, they also found that the herring had bent spines, abnormal jaws and some opacity in the embryos — caused by restricted blood flow. She said that this oil spill was similar to the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska, in terms of how the herring population was severely impacted. “There needs to better categorization of crude oil,” Vines said. “However, we have to keep in mind that this is an isolated incident, and that it is not just oil spills that affect these populations.” ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

Galaxy cluster collisions could help us understand dark matter Ph.D. student William Dawson leads research on post-collision system By ALEX STANTON Aggie Science Writer

The UC Davis cosmological physics department discovered post-collision galaxy clusters 5 million light years away which may hold the potential to illuminate many mysteries of the universe. The Musket Ball Cluster, so named because it is older and slower moving than the Bullet Cluster, represents the aftermath of two galaxy clusters which moved through each other, pulled by gravity. This particular system is important largely because it is one of few known collisions and, of those known, it is the farthest along its collision path. Galaxy clusters are made up of three components: hundreds of galaxies, gas a thousand times hotter than the surface of the sun and dark matter. Due to the large distance between galaxies,

Evan Davis / Aggie

See GALAXIES, page 3

UC Davis graduate student William Dawson recently led research into how and why galaxy clusters like the Musket Ball and Bullet collide.

Energy through algae New joint project explores ways to use algae as source for biofuels By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

UC Davis colleagues are involved in a new joint project with an agency in Japan to explore new ways of creating biofuels for regular use, especially for use by automobiles, trucks and jets. “Oil reserves won’t last forever,” said Oliver Fiehn, the director of the Metabolomics Research and Core Laboratories in the UC Davis Genome Center and research leader of the new project. The goal of the joint project is to combine “perfect science and perfect application,” Fiehn said. Biofuel technology involves the science of growing organisms and then extracting molecules that can be changed into a combustible form for fuel use, according to John Labavitch, a professor in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department. Using algae as biofuel in an industrial setting is a relatively new area of study. The problem of developing an industrial process of growing algae as a biofuel source is a long-term goal that cannot be

accomplished by any one specific research project at the present time. “There are some obvious difficult points that must be addressed,” in order to create a workable process, Labavitch said. One of the biggest engineering obstacles to be overcome is finding an appropriate place to grow algae that does not compete with regular food production. Jean VanderGheynst, a professor in the UC Davis Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, who is also working on the project, says that the ocean would be an ideal place to grow algae to be used for biofuels, since the ocean would provide for a steady temperature. “Think of enormous bags filled with algae where you have the algae being pumped through chambers in the surface,” VanderGheynst said. VanderGheynst and Labavitch have also been working together for the past three years, using funding from Chevron, to study the most effective ways to grow

algae and use their component molecules as biofuel sources. Another option would be growing algae in special pools in the desert, explains Labavitch. “Algae grow very fast — in a week or two. You can harvest them and start again,” Labavitch said, thus creating a quick and efficient turnaround time. Ethanol made from corn was the first biofuel developed for use on an industrial scale. Many scientists, though, are dissatisfied with ethanol due to its many drawbacks. “Ethanol corrodes motors, pipelines and it’s not a highdensity fuel,” Fiehn said. “We need to get better and bolder than that.” The low energy density of ethanol makes it unsuitable for use as a jet fuel, Fiehn emphasized. Also, corn grown for ethanol production is grown on land, competing with food production. “Algae don’t compete with agricultural land use,” Fiehn said. VanderGheynst is hopeful about finding a way to more easily extract molecules from algae

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Algae growing in the ocean could be the new future of biofuels. that can be converted to combustible form. “Certain algae will secrete lipid, so that you don’t need to break the cell wall open, and that would be a tremendous savings to the process,” she said. The new joint project involves a strong orientation toward research in basic science, as ev-

idenced by the large chemical pathway chart on the wall of the conference room in Fiehn’s lab — a chart that is packed with intricately connected lines and symbols denoting various types of molecules and the chemical reactions that they undergo in various

See ALGAE, page 3

January 25, 2012  

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