November 1, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Fish News and Fish Stories: Water You Know?

Some marine biology news is amazing; some just plain dumb.

Amazing FactsSmarter than thought:  The phrase “…than thought” signifies that something science didn’t know has just surfaced.  This time, it’s a discovery by Queen Mary University of London that fish are “smarter than thought,” PhysOrg reports about experiments with zebrafish where they passed an IQ test better than expected.  Did you know?  “Zebrafish are genetically surprisingly similar to humans and are incredibly useful to our studies of how genes influence addiction and psychiatric diseases, among other things.” Don’t stare at those sad eyes next time you catch one.

The healing power of blind cave fish :  Here’s an unexpected fish story: blind cave fish might lead to cures for human eye diseases.  Science Daily quotes a University of Minnesota biologist saying, “The cavefish genome sequence is similar to the human genome sequence, and we share many of the same pathways and genes with them.”  By seeing how cave fish lost their sight, researchers might find ways to retrofit sight to the human blind.  “Many of those traits are really important for human health, such as the fishes’ eye loss, which could be analogous to human diseases such as retinal degeneration.”

How the shark died:  Megalodon was the world’s biggest shark, but when it went extinct has been a mystery.  Now, Live Science reports that the mystery has been “solved” by a computer model, despite an incomplete fossil record.  But can we really believe that it died out because its whale prey was getting too big to eat?  “This date falls on the border between the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs, right when baleen whales began growing to their modern-day gigantic sizes. The timing of the Megalodon’s extinction makes sense, since these ancient sharks fed on marine mammals, including whales and dolphins, the researchers write in the paper.”  A twenty-foot great white shark is considered big; imagine one 3 times that size.

The origin of the slimy brainPhysOrg shows scientists looking at lampreys for “important insights about the evolutionary history of our own brain development.”  Welcome to your brain’s granddaddy: “Lamprey—slimy, eel-like parasitic fish with tooth-riddled, jawless sucking mouths—are rather disgusting to look at, but thanks to their important position on the vertebrate family tree, they can offer important insights about the evolutionary history of our own brain development,” the article begins.  It’s not like they were expecting what they found, though:  “To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the lamprey hindbrain was not only segmented during development but the process also involved Hox genes—just like in its jawed vertebrate cousins.”  What, exactly, evolved?

How the fish got its spotsAstrobiology Magazine is all excited.  Its team of materialists thinks that the explanation for “egg spots” in cichlid fish will help Darwin get over a headache:

The evolution of such evolutionary innovations is often hard to explain relying solely on the model of progressive modification of already existing traits. Furthermore, it is largely unknown which genome modifications actually lead to evolutionary innovations.

A change to an existing color spot seems hardly worthy of the label “innovation” in evolutionary parlance.  One might think instead of a new functional organ, an eye, or a wing.  The “innovation” of egg spots celebrated in the article is due to jumping genes, not to the Darwinian mutation and selection process.  Science Daily repeated the same tale coming out of the University of Basel.

Fish do it:  Some of the earliest fish had sex, Sid Perkins says in Science Magazine accompanied by artwork of placoderms, thought to be the earliest jawed vertebrates.  Grooves in the skeletons indicate they knew how to get about internal fertilization.  This pushes another complex system further back into evolutionary time: “One big question now is whether even more ancient species within the antiarch placoderms bred in the same way as the fossils described here,” Perkins writes.  “If so, that would push back the origins of copulation within the group to 430 million years ago.”  It sounds like evolutionists are preparing themselves for that challenging eventuality.

Fish-oilman symbiosis:  In a period when man-made structures threaten many ocean species, this paper in PNAS stood out: “Oil platforms off California are among the most productive marine fish habitats globally.”  The fishies just can’t get enough fun swimming around all those pilings and beams; Deepwater Horizon notwithstanding, they’re moving in and calling these oil platforms home sweet home.  “Here, we find that fish communities living on the complex hardscape habitat created throughout the water column by the structure of oil and gas platforms off California have the highest secondary production per unit area of seafloor of any marine ecosystem for which similar estimates exist.”  Let’s hope the researchers weren’t funded by the oil industry; they declared “no conflict of interest.”  If the conclusion is true, though, it shouldn’t matter.

Water you waiting for?  The Earth had water early on.  That surprising turnaround in thinking was announced in Science Magazine.  Contrary to the old view that the Earth formed dry and needed its oceans delivered by comets or wet asteroids, scientists primarily from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute now think that carbonaceous chondrite-like material could have delivered enough volatiles during accretion.  “Mystery of Earth’s Water Origin Solved,” National Geographic trumpets triumphantly: “Instead of arriving later by comet impact, Earth’s waters have likely existed since our planet’s birth.”  This puts the arrival of water on our planet “135 million years earlier than thought,” Live Science asserts.  How the steamy Earth pulled off this trick is not quite well understood:

The jump back in time is significant, says Sarafian, because during those first 150 million years, the inner solar system was considerably hotter and more hostile than it was later on. Earth would have experienced major impacts from flying debris (it was potentially such an impact that broke off a portion of the Earth and formed the moon). Many scientists have suspect [sic] that through those big impacts and high temperatures, it would make sense for the hydrogen to turn into vapor and be blown out into space.

The planets held on to the water somehow,” Sarafian said. “That’s going to make people rethink how planets are made.

The scientists made their hypothesis by looking at Vesta and at carbonaceous chondrites.  How “planets held on to the water somehow” is left as an exercise.  The story uses that phrase again: “…than thought.”  They never specify who thought so.  They also never indicate who should think so about the new notion.

When you can distinguish between amazing facts and blind speculations, you’ve made real scientific progress.

 

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