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Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.
The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants—which makes it an excellent gauge.
Day - Service - Water
One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.
"It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.
Model - Bioaccumulation - Pollutants
"It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."
As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through—which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.
Canaries - Coal - Mine - Mussels - Bio-indicators
Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.
Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.
Meistertzheim - Study - France - Tara - Ocean
Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.
The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.
Idea - Mussels - Oceans - Microplastics - Dream
The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.
"In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.
Richard - Luthy - Engineer - California - Stanford
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.
But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can...
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