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Red sea urchin 'almost immortal'
BBC News ^
| Monday, 24 November, 2003
| Dr David Whitehouse
Posted on 11/26/2003 7:03:23 AM PST by presidio9
The red sea urchin found in the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean is one of the Earth's longest-living animals. The small, spiny creature can last for more than 200 years with few signs of age-related disease, a US research team from Oregon and California has found.
The animal, which grows to more than 15 cm across, grazes on marine plants and uses its spines to deter predators.
"No animal lives forever, but these red sea urchins appear to be practically immortal," said Dr Thomas Ebert.
The urchins (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) were once considered the scourge of the sea.
They ate plants in kelp forests and people believed they were at least partly responsible for the decline of that marine ecosystem - and so tried to poison them.
However, the spherical echinoderms became valuable in the 1970s when the US sold them to Japan, where their sex organs were considered a delicacy.
They brought high prices, and at one point in the 1990s were one of the most valuable marine resources in California.
Now, studies indicate red sea urchins grow a lot more slowly and live a lot longer than had been believed - certainly longer than the seven to 15 years previously assumed.
The latest work on sea urchin growth rates uses measures of the isotope carbon-14, which has increased in all living organisms following the atmospheric testing of atomic weapons in the 1950s.
"Radiocarbon testing in this type of situation provided a very strong test of growth rates and ages," says Dr Ebert, from Oregon State University.
"Some of the largest and we believe oldest red sea urchins up to 19 centimetres in size have been found in waters off British Columbia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
"By our calculations, they are probably 200 or more years old.
"They can die from attacks by predators, specific diseases or being harvested by fishermen. But even then they show very few signs of age. The evidence suggests that a 100-year-old red sea urchin is just as apt to live another year, or reproduce, as a 10-year-old sea urchin."
In fact, the indications are that the more mature red sea urchins are the most prolific producers of sperm and eggs, and are perfectly capable of breeding even when incredibly old.
"Among other things, [the radiocarbon data] confirmed that in older sea urchins, there is a very steady, very consistent growth that's quite independent of ocean conditions or other variables, and once they near adult size our research indicates they do not have growth spurts."
The research is published in the US Fishery Bulletin, by scientists from Oregon State University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: costalenvironment; geoduck; hedgehog; longevity; redseaurchin; ronjeremy; seaurchins; sushi
posted on 11/26/2003 7:03:23 AM PST
Good, I want one. Finally a pet I can keep and get attached to. Plus, it sounds like they make a tasty treat. Maybe I need two.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:08:23 AM PST
Ping me when you can inject a cocktail of the relevant DNA carried by a retrovirus into a human and double his life expectancy. Oh...did I also mention I want a sure bet, none of this turning into a half man/half red sea urchin crap.
That would make for a much less exciting movie than The Fly, and come to think of it The Fly wasn't all that exciting.
And a second family at age 100. Better move that retirement age way back.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:12:18 AM PST
But spines! I mean spines!!! Plus living for 200 years; that makes it much better than my hedgehog DNA plan.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:13:25 AM PST
posted on 11/26/2003 7:16:51 AM PST
by Capt. Tom
(Anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest. - Capt. Tom)
posted on 11/26/2003 7:18:43 AM PST
(protectionism is a false god)
Practically immortal? Is that the same as practically alive? Sea urchins are practically immobile, for certain.
Damn. I was just getting ready to post ol' Ron!
posted on 11/26/2003 7:19:35 AM PST
by Constitution Day
(I have already previewed or do not wish to preview this composition.)
And they don't barf on the carpet.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:21:52 AM PST
("Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt")
To: presidio9; Constitution Day
posted on 11/26/2003 7:37:15 AM PST
They're not much fun to sleep with, though.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:39:37 AM PST
(okay, I have a freeping problem)
I always thought it looked (and tasted) like baby poop.
Where's the obligatory picture of Helen Thomas?
"Red Sea Urchin 'Almost Immortal'"
"However, the spherical echinoderms became valuable in the 1970s when the US sold them to Japan, where their sex organs were considered a delicacy. "
"Did someone say 'Uni'?!?!"
posted on 11/26/2003 7:47:57 AM PST
(The avalanche has already started...it is too late for the pebbles to vote!)
To: Constitution Day
their sex organs were considered a delicacy.
I was just getting ready to post ol' Ron!
These two sentences provide for an unsavory juxtiposition.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:49:49 AM PST
by Jim Cane
(With their big soviet hats atop tiny pinheads, commies scream "troll" hoping you won't notice.)
The oldest Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) ever found was about 176 years old. The geoduck is a real funny looking critter - imagine a 3 pound clam with a giant phallic siphon tube that spends it's entire live buried under the sand. Good eating, too.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:53:13 AM PST
Immortal ... until it shows up as sushi.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:53:42 AM PST
(Help Bring Colly-fornia Back!)
I always thought it looked (and tasted) like baby poop.
Super fresh sea urchin tastes mild and sweet. If it tastes like poop, return it. It's not popular in the states, and tends to age in the sushi chef's fridge.
posted on 11/26/2003 7:55:09 AM PST
Beat me to it. I was thinking, "they're immortal until they're the theme ingredient!" Nice Kaga pic.
posted on 11/26/2003 8:06:31 AM PST
To: Grampa Dave; PatrickHenry; adam_az
Ping to grampadave for humor value.
Ping to patrickhenry for his evolution pinglist.
Ping to myself out of pure narcissism.
posted on 11/26/2003 8:08:48 AM PST
My wife has always loved it, describing at as you do. Of course, she liked changing diapers as well. ; )
The evidence suggests that a 100-year-old red sea urchin is just as apt to live another year, or reproduce, as a 10-year-old sea urchin.
Ooh, memoryless life expectancy. Like a light bulb, or a refrigerator. I like, I like!
posted on 11/26/2003 10:29:34 AM PST
(Colgate Raiders Football -- 12-0 and headed to the playoffs)
posted on 11/26/2003 10:42:03 AM PST
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