Thirty years ago zebra mussels, a European native species, were introduced into the Great Lakes. These illegal aliens are believed to have arrived in the ballast water of ocean-going ships that entered the Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway. They form great clumps, eat the indigenous phytoplankton, and have generally been an environmental catastrophe. A clever biologist believes he has found a way to attack them safely. Safe for everything but the zebra mussels, that is:
Now the mussels may have met their match: Daniel P. Molloy, an emeritus biologist at the New York State Museum in Albany and a self-described “Bronx boy who became fascinated by things living in water.”
Inspired by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in high school, Dr. Molloy, now 66, has long been a pioneer in the development of environmentally safe control agents to replace broad-spectrum chemical pesticides.
Leading a team at the museum’s Cambridge Field Research Laboratory in upstate New York, he discovered a bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens strain CL145A, that kills the mussels but appears to have little or no effect on other organisms.
Although I would rejoice at an effective way to combat the zebra mussels that have wreaked havoc on fishing in the Great Lakes, I’ve got to admit to a healthy skepticism about the strategy that’s being described. I think the same thing was said about releasing rabbits in Australia and then about releasing the succession of viruses that have been tried to reduce the rabbit population. Over time the population of genetically resistant rabbits grows and the merry-go-round takes another spin.