Mankind’s actions constantly affect the ecosystems around us and just like in The Simpsons where the nuclear power plant produced three-eyed fish, so the Hudson River has spawned a species of bottom-feeding fish that has genetically developed an immunity to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The discovery was made by a team of New York University scientists who have been conducting a decade-long study at the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Tuxedo. Their studies found that Atlantic tomcod have evolved (much more quickly than expected) to withstand the effects of pollutants in the river.
Speaking about the discovery, Issac Wirgin, a lead geneticist on the team, said: “I knew we had something big here. You don’t often get to see evolution, because it usually takes tens of thousands or millions of years.”
Image © wuestenigel
It seems the Hudson River has a unique effect on its inhabitants as a similar discovery was made in 1989. At that time, scientists found that a mud-dwelling worm had evolved an immunity to cadmium thanks to the large amounts of waste dumped by the Millennium Battery Company. Despite the fact that the metal is poisonous, it was found that the worms had developed an immunity to it. It is the same with the tomcod, but in their case, large amount of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that have been dumped in the river are the contaminant of choice.