PORTLAND, Maine — A University of Southern Maine professor and a crew of students are embarking on an expedition to learn how the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is affecting the health of whales.
The research vessel, Odyssey, a 93-foot, two-masted sailboat packed with laboratory equipment, is now berthed at DiMillo’s Marina. The vessel is scheduled to depart Portland next Friday.
John Wise, a professor of toxicology and molecular epidemiology at the University of Southern Maine, is the lead scientist. At least 10 USM students will be on board for some portion of the three-month expedition.
The vessel is carrying Wise’s cellular molecular laboratory – the only laboratory of its kind at sea, according to Iain Kerr, chief executive officer of Ocean Alliance, the Massachusetts nonprofit that owns the $1.5 million ketch.
Wise and the crew will be hunting for cell samples of sperm, humpback and Bryde’s whales. Wise will study DNA extracted from the cells to examine the effects of pollution.
He will use his lab to grow additional cells, which in effect become a permanent living sample for further study.
The creation of new cell lines from wild marine animals is difficult if not impossible to do because the cells degrade within hours, Wise said. That’s why it’s important to have a floating laboratory.
Click on the link for the rest of this story by Tom Bell in the Portland Press Herald.