The golden mussel is a bivalve mollusk that is very invasive in nature, propagating throughout ecosystems like a virus on a mission. The golden mussel breeds and reproduces in quick successions, and given the fact that is has very little enemies, it can invade manmade and natural systems to wreck havoc – clogging pipes and damaging hydraulic systems in dams and other water-based structures.
Add to this the filter feeding habit of the golden mussel, and you have a marine organism that increases the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the water, triggering the growth of toxic algae and suck up oxygen and crowd out other aquatic creatures.
It is true that fish consume mussels and they may soon get hooked on them, thereby bolstering the local population of fish in local waters, these seemingly harmless mollusks can disrupt the natural order of any marine habitat with unintended and unforeseen consequences.
According to a computational biologist and fellow with TED Global, Marcela Uliano da Silva, “In some rivers, there is evidence showing that the fish population has increased 20 percent because they have a new food resource in the mussels. But when you increase the number of fish, it has a domino effect, as they are at the top of the food chain,” said Silva. “Ultimately, when the mussel invades, it transforms the ecosystem, decreasing biodiversity and homogenizing the environment.”
Da Silva is a Brazilian who has been working to disrupt the proliferation abilities of golden mussels, and he hit upon the idea of engineering a virus that when released into the water infects the mussels and renders them infertile.
And as can be expected, many people do not agree with Silva’s strategy on fighting the bivalves, saying releasing a virus into the wild can be dangerous because of its ability to mutate, eventually doing more harm than good.
“We know that evolution does not stop,” James Collins, an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University.
“Every day, I’m anxious,” Silva admitted, stating that invasive problems like that posed by golden mussels require drastic solutions. “But you have to be able to live in agony. Otherwise, you’re not going to do great things. You cannot be safe. You need to take risks.”
The only snag in Silva’s plan is that it will require a minimum of 4 years before it can be carried out, during which time one can only pray about the marine invaders.
Conservationists have managed to halt the advance of the golden mussels about 1,000 miles from the Amazon River, but a single boat that cross from the wetlands into Amazon could have thousands of mussel larvae attached to its bottom, unwittingly introducing the invaders into the Amazon; and then, the harm is done.