The New York Times is reporting on research out of Columbia University that traced the cancer back to Bay mussels from British Columbia and has since spread to shellfish in South America and Europe.
Humans have spread a contagious form of cancer around the world.
Researchers reported on Tuesday that the cancer, which invades mussels, has spread across the Equator. Originating in one species in the Northern Hemisphere, the cancer has established itself in another species in the Southern Hemisphere.
“There’s no natural explanation for how that happened without human help,” said Michael Metzger, a biologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle and a co-author of the report, published in the journal eLife.
While working as a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, Dr. Metzger discovered that four species of shellfish — including soft-shell clams and bay mussels — had transmissible cancers of their own. It was the first time anyone had discovered contagious cancer in aquatic animals.
Dr. Metzger and his colleagues suspect that sick shellfish release cancer cells. The cells float along the currents until they are sucked up by healthy animals as they filter seawater for food. In one case, the researchers found, the cancer cells had moved from one species of shellfish into another.
Nicolas Bierne, a geneticist at the University of Montpellier in France who studies blue mussels, realized that this finding perhaps held the solution to a mystery that he had been struggling with.
Analyzing the DNA from blue mussels in France, he and his colleagues had discovered some genetic markers that looked as if they belonged to another species: bay mussels. He might have expected such a result if these species interbred — but bay mussels don’t even live in French waters.Being fond of our local shellfish I called the seafood shop at the nearby fishing port. They've heard nothing. Seeking assurance I then called the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans at their Vancouver headquarters. Those who read this blog know the esteem in which I hold DFO.
The fellow I spoke with had heard nothing about it but he put me on to someone else's voicemail. I'm not holding my breath while I await their callback.
If this is a health hazard that DFO has overlooked that could be the final straw. It's time that British Columbia put an end to Ottawa's incompetence and reclaimed jurisdiction over our own fisheries.