The blackfin icefish and Antarctic fish in general demonstrate a pronounced stenothermia and adaptations unique to the Antarctic environment. In quick succession, the blackfin icefish is distinguished by: the absence of hemoglobin, three to four times bigger heart and blood supply, oversized gills, frost tolerance, a reduced body metabolism, and skin so thin that it participates incidentally in the breathing system. We caught a total of 23 Channichthydae specimens likely to breed – I can’t help wondering about the dollar value of these fish and, culinary reflexes being what they are, what they could possibly taste like.
Integration with the team of “fish people”
Arrival at Palmer station was action-packed. The fish had to be speedily transferred to the pens in order to benefit from the best conditions of captivity. When I get off the boat I meet my colleague Thomas Desvignes for the first time, a post-doctoral student at the University of Oregon with whom I`ll be sharing my day-to-day life, a few glasses and some wonderful photos. Thomas describes the different projects under way, the “who does what, where and why” and the modus operandi. I learn early on that the station personnel have nicknamed the physiologists “fish people.” The integration has to happen fast, and I prepare my interventions according to the initial plan, leaving room for scientific opportunism and the instinct of curiosity. One thing’s for certain: the “fish person” in me will be very happy here!
From osteoporosis to cell aging, the blackfin icefish is a very popular research subject
Beyond studying the effects of climate change on embryogenesis, the team is interested in the mechanisms of bone development in the blackfin icefish, which lacks a swim bladder and has developed mechanisms leading to an increase in bone porosity and therefore increased flotation, thus allowing them to use the water column. The study of what is altered or modified in bone formation may well contribute to a better understanding of osteopenia, in other words a gradual decline in bone density, which leads to osteoporosis, the weakening of bones in the human skeleton. The other group of “fish people,” from the University of Alaska, is seeking to determine whether there’s an advantage to being a fish without hemoglobin (Hb) and myoglobin (Mb). In fact, the presence of pigments for carrying oxygen to the blood and muscles (Hb and Mb) is paradoxically associated with the production of free radicals, which in the long term damage biological constituents. The body will do its best to protect itself, but there is unescapably an aging of the cells.