New Scientist reveals how scientists are looking into the muddy, murky water of the Mississippi River… by getting mussels with electronic backpacks to do the hard work:
The plan is for the mussels to measure the flow of nitrogen-rich fertiliser that courses down the river and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. An excess of the nutrient there can cause dead zones that suffocate marine life.
Researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City have attached wireless sensor packages to mussels for measuring their “gape” – how much their shells are open. They are also working on monitoring the animals’ heart rate, how much water they filter and when they burrow. Each behaviour changes according to the water conditions.
In a previous experiment the mussels’ backpacks successfully transmitted signals to a receiver on the riverbed that relayed the signals to a lab on shore via a wired connection. The researchers are now testing their system on a group of mussels living in a tank, so that they can measure how the mussel shells gape in response to varying nitrogen levels.
Cybernetic organisms are gathering our data.