The Next Big Thing #2: Working On The Right Mussels
Posted by Richard Conniff on December 27, 2013
North America is a mother lode of freshwater mussels, with almost 300 native species. Their looks are dull, but their behaviors aren’t. In one species, for instance, the female puts out a fleshy mantle that does a convincing imitation of a minnow. But when a real fish comes to investigate, the mussel blasts larvae into its gills, turning the fish into a mussel incubator.
Unfortunately, many native mussels are now being overwhelmed and suffocated by invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Researchers have been testing scores of microbes in search of a way to kill the invaders and save the homegrown species. The common North American soil bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens didn’t sound like a contender at first. It’s a beneficial microbe used in agriculture to protect the roots of some plants against fungi and nematodes. One strain even helps turn milk into yogurt. But when researchers tried strain CL145A, it killed the invasive mussels without harming anything else.