A Pregnancy Test For An Endangered Species
A Pregnancy Test For An Endangered Species
Know when animals reproduce with this biosensor & protect their babies. Tech meets ecological conservation.
Know when animals reproduce with this biosensor & protect their babies. Tech meets ecological conservation. Read more
About this project
USE A REMOTE PREGNANCY TEST TO PROTECT THIS SPECIES - Keep them out of the dumpster and in the river. We are combining biosensor technology with biology to create fish that tell us their biological status in the environment. We can pinpoint their reproductive hotspots and help develop refuges to protect them from fishing. More fish = better fishing in the future.
WHAT IS A BIOSENSOR? - These are the sensors used to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and stress, which are used to track the status of astronauts or the characters in a sci-fi movie. We propose to use a remote biosensor to monitor the status of sturgeon in the lab and field. From this, we will know when they are reproducing and protect their habitat from fishing. This is similar to another Kickstarter project that has similar goals for people (see PIP).
IMAGINE USING THIS TECHNOLOGY IN HUMANS - Your smartphone will someday be able to tell you that you are pregnant or ready to become pregnant. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's start with fish.
IF WE ARE FUNDED: We will partner with researchers around the world (e.g., Dr. Steve Cooke, Carleton University, Ontario; Dr. Steve Chipps, South Dakota State University; University of California-Davis) to ensure that this technology is used globally for conservation of endangered species, including sturgeon.
About the artist of the commissioned, one-of-a-kind print if we're funded...
Dave Neely is one of our best fish illustrators. Here's an example of his work:
Fishes and other animals are imperiled globally. You are surely familiar with adult salmon returning from the ocean, running upstream to spawn; many come back to the same stream in which they were born.
Biologists working with salmon have it easy!
For most fishes and other animals, we don't know when or where their offspring are born and reared - and that's a problem. The density of most animal populations is determined at birth. If adult fish can't find a suitable place to spawn or the babies hatch in a bad environment, the fish population fails. In some fisheries, this just means less fish to catch recreationally. In others, it may mean extinction.
Listen to our story on NPR Marketplace
My colleagues and I want to know where fish spawn.
This is particularly important for sturgeon, which are a group of the world's most endangered fish. Habitat loss and harvest for caviar (eggs) are challenging their survival. I have been working with the sturgeon of the murky rivers of the US for many years and want to know where they spawn. To do this, I need a tool that is not commercially available but has been developed in the laboratory. The technology is here. All the materials are readily available. Sturgeon are perfect for biosensor testing because they are hardy, large-bodied, and need some love.
We are focusing on Mississippi River sturgeon - pallids, shovelnose, and lakers. One purported sturgeon spawning area is near the St. Louis Arch! When we find their spawning locations, we will use this information to improve habitat and help policy makers develop refuges in these spots.
CHECK OUT EXAMPLE SPAWN TRACKING LOCATIONS HERE (a similar searchable map will be available when project starts) *if the map doesn't load, the size of your window is too big. Shrink it and the map should load.
Once the project goes live, we will show the location of spawning sturgeon on the internet. You will have access to this in real time, along with us.
Proposed hardware: A remote biosensor to detect spawning of adult sturgeon.
- We biologists use radio transmitters affixed to sturgeon to track them in the rivers of the world. These are harmless to the fish.
- A receiver network is in place in the Mississippi River basin. See it here.
- The biosensor I propose will be attached to these transmitters and tell us when and where the sturgeon have spawned.
- The sensor will store the event and download it when the sturgeon approaches the nearest receiver.
- We can identify the habitat and time where spawning occurred and protect the fish at those locations during those times to ensure that spawning produces the next batch of young for the future.
- Think about a simple glucose meter that you can buy at any drug store or the oxygen meter that a nurse puts on your finger when you are in the hospital. This biosensor is a similar proven, medically relevant concept. Members of my team have published papers on this technique. One member has a product on the market for detecting allergens in humans.
- The biosensor will be no larger than a couple of match sticks.
- Physiologists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers are collaborating with me on development.
- Mature female fish that are known to spawn within the next few months will be used for research.
- The biosensor bonds with hormones produced by female fish only when they spawn. The sensor is linked with commercially available transmitters for fish and other animals.
- When spawning occurs in the rivers of the Mississippi River basin, signals will be stored and then sent to the nearest remote sensing station. We'll identify the spawning sites and provide guidance to agencies to protect the sturgeon.
- Track and pinpoint reproductive activity of other organisms - endangered mammals such as dolphins, whales - also land animals like jaguars, deer.
- Tracking invasive species and determining where they reproduce.
- Future human application - improve reproduction for couples having difficulty conceiving a child.
- Proven technique in the laboratory.
- We isolate the reproductive hormones (antigen) and develop antibodies for them.
- Coat detection circuits with antibodies.
- When hormones are present, the hormones stick to the circuits and send a signal to the transmitter.
- The transmitter streams the information "spawn!" to receivers and we know that the fish has spawned.
- Eventually, this information can be streamed to researchers via software apps.
How funds will be used.
- Collect and hold adult sturgeon in our laboratory space - labor-intensive
- Induce spawning of sturgeon - labor intensive
- Develop assays - materials, labor
- Build biosensor - materials, labor
- Purchase transmitters and impedance circuitry - materials, labor
- Lab testing - labor
- Field testing - labor plus boat costs
- Dissemination of results on the internet - labor
- Dr. Brian Small, Physiology
- Dr. Ian Suni, Materials Science
- Dr. Haibo Wang, Computer/Electrical Engineer
- Dr. Jim Garvey, Ecologist
Risks and challenges
Once the biosensor is completed, my colleagues and I will provide this technology for free to all companies that produce transmitters for animals in the environment. The conservation uses are unlimited. Getting the research community and industry to embrace this technology will involve active communication and lots of research.
The biggest challenge will be biofouling of the biosensors in the field. Biofouling reduces the sensitivity of the sensor. We will conduct experiments to find the proper coatings to reduce biofouling for fish and other organisms.
Funds from Kickstarter will be used to generate a working biosensor-transmitter combination. The most daunting challenge (believe it or not) will be raising funds for research. Testing the equipment will require building hundreds of these gadgets, placing them in sturgeon, and conducting research in the rivers. We will seek funds from government agencies and industry to leverage support for this hardware.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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