LSU study finds BP oil spill damaged fish at the genetic level

A slew of upbeat public relations and advertising campaigns, together with a healthy dose of political spin, have helped rehabilitate the public’s perception of the Gulf Coast, left battered by the BP oil spill. But while tourists return to the Gulf in record numbers, the results of a new study by a group of scientists from Louisiana State University offer strong evidence that, despite appearances, all is not right in the Gulf.

The study, published this week in the National Academy of Sciences Journal, has found that BP’s oil spill is taking a toll on an abundant species of fish in Louisiana’s marshes, even in areas where there is no oil in sight.

According to an Associated Press report, the LSU scientists have found that the oil spill continues to have “sub-lethal” effects on killifish, a type of small fish that provide a main food source for larger fish species, including speckled trout and redfish. Louisiana fishermen also use killifish for bait. While previous studies analyzed the links between biological damages and contamination levels, the LSU study looked for damage on the DNA level caused by contamination … and found it.

Some of the damage the scientists discovered in the sampled killifish included physiological and reproductive impairments; deformity; damaged gills, intestines, hearts, and lungs; a smaller size; and behavior one researcher described as “listless.”

“We have done all this chemical testing of wildlife, seafood and water and the message has gone out that seafood from Louisiana is safe to eat,” Andrew Whitehead, an LSU genome researcher involved in the study, told the AP. “The message is that the animals are out of the woods because they are not carrying a chemical burden. But when you ask the fish directly, when you look at their biology, they show that they have been exposed and that may be a problem for populations,” Dr. Whitehead said.

Another scientist who contributed to the study said it mirrored findings in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, where serious problems in the fish population became apparent to scientists several years after the Exxon-Valdez spill.

Source: The Associated Press