Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Causes Heart Attacks in Tuna Fish

First Posted: Feb 14, 2014 02:52 PM EST

Back in April of 2010, the BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded after a gas leak occurred on board. The fire burned for 36 hours in the Gulf of Mexico and hydrocarbons were released into the waters before the well was sealed. This has had a negative effect on some marine life.

Workers on the rig were unable to control the flow from the well when the oil began to pour out. The blowout preventer emergency function (equipment designed to control the flow of oil) failed to seal the well in a timely manner. Since then BP has provided long-term funding for research regarding the impacts of the spill, including effects on the marine ecosystem.

A study that was published in Science Magazine focused on lab work that revealed the harmful effects of crude oil chemicals in Bluefin and Yellowfin tuna, where the Gulf of Mexico is home to a great population. Scientists are using their knowledge of polyaromatic hydrocarbons--a chemical in crude oil--to identify heart problems in embryonic and developing tuna.

Scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been working on tuna heart issues in lab experiments. They have discovered that polyaromatic hydrocarbon molecules can block important cellular pathways, which are essential for proper functioning of the heart in these fish.

However, the research is not limited to these tuna fish, as the scientists greatly suggest that other marine life that were exposed to the hydrocarbons are very well susceptible to such cardiac risks. Others swimming in nearby waters could also experience complications from the lingering effects of the spill. But the researchers are interested in further broadening the study.

"The same ion channels present in tuna to make its heart beat are present in humans, said Professor Barbara Block of Stanford, in this CNN article. "So we're interested in the impact of oil petroleum products on our own excitation-contraction coupling."

These findings among the tuna fish in the Gulf of Mexico could lead to further research on the well being of humans experiencing such petroleum exposure, especially since BP has agreed to provide research funding.

To read more about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit this CNN article as well as the BP website.

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