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$4,036 pledged of $100,000 goal
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By Dr. Jim Garvey
$4,036 pledged of $100,000 goal
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About this project

Create a remote pregnancy test for this unusual-looking sturgeon mother who plays an important role in river ecology.  Just don't call momma ugly.
Create a remote pregnancy test for this unusual-looking sturgeon mother who plays an important role in river ecology. Just don't call momma ugly.
Why we need a biosensor to protect sturgeon.  Dead fish in a dumpster near a spawning site in St. Louis - likely cast offs from sloppy fishing.  The circled fish is a possible federally endangered pallid sturgeon.  No spawning = extinction.
Why we need a biosensor to protect sturgeon. Dead fish in a dumpster near a spawning site in St. Louis - likely cast offs from sloppy fishing. The circled fish is a possible federally endangered pallid sturgeon. No spawning = extinction.

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.

Supported by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society
Supported by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society

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:

Image copyright Dave Neely 2013.
Image copyright Dave Neely 2013.
Story on WSIU radio
Story on WSIU radio

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.

Sampling in the field.
Sampling in the field.
Example t-shirt design
Example t-shirt design
Sturgeon may spawn near this well-known monument.
Sturgeon may spawn near this well-known monument.

Listen to our story on NPR Marketplace

Partnering with SIU Carbondale
Partnering with SIU Carbondale

"Saving the Sturgeon" - Article on our research

"Sex and the Sturgeon" - Article on our research

"Tracking the Spawn" - Article on our research

"Chain of Rocks and Sturgeon" - Article on our research

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.

Baby sturgeon need help.
Baby sturgeon need help.
The fate of many sturgeon - harvested eggs.  They need protection.
The fate of many sturgeon - harvested eggs. They need protection.

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.

Visit our telemetry site to see our past successes and see the receiver array.

The details.

  • 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.
Sturgeon with a transmitter - the biosensor will be inserted under the skin.
Sturgeon with a transmitter - the biosensor will be inserted under the skin.

Future application.

  • 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.

The approach.

Approach for design.
Approach for design.
  • 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

The Team.

  • Dr. Brian Small, Physiology
  • Dr.  Ian Suni, Materials Science
  • Dr. Haibo Wang, Computer/Electrical Engineer
  • Dr. Jim Garvey, Ecologist
Holding an adult sturgeon from the Mississippi River.
Holding an adult sturgeon from the Mississippi River.
Center Logo
Center Logo
Recent paper on the use of biotelemetry for restoration.
Recent paper on the use of biotelemetry for restoration.

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.

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $2 or more About $2.00

    Get your name on the permanent tracking web site at http://fishdata.siu.edu. We'll name a sturgeon location on the Mississippi River after you! You get a certificate with latitude and longitude plus a key to the location on Google Maps.

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    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Sturgeon Fish "Kiss" Print

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences t-shirt (see picture in project text)

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences t-shirt plus Kiss Print

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    Limited to 50 pledgers! Regular-size (about 4 x 6 inches) signed and numbered "Kiss"print by Dave Neely. Get them while they are available.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences Coffee Mug plus Kiss Print

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences Coffee t-shirt plus Kiss Print

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Limited to 100 pledgers! Full-size (about 8 x 10 inches), signed, framed, and numbered "Kiss"print by Dave Neely. Get them while they are available.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Fishing rod and reel combo for river fishes. Plus Kiss Print, t-shirt, and mug.

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    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    A tagged sturgeon labeled with a name of your choice in the river. Track it on-line anytime. Kiss print, t-shirt, and mug included with a picture of the named sturgeon.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    A two-hour trip on our research vessel the R/V Shovelnose on the Mississippi River by the St. Louis Arch, helping us track sturgeon. Picture of the vessel is on this page. Limited to 2 passengers per pledge.

    (You are responsible for travel and lodging in St. Louis, MO)

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Funding period

- (30 days)