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June 19, 2011
"It's like a carpet of cat vomit, as acid as the acid in our stomachs. You can clone themselves, reproduce exponentially and have no natural predators. If they hurt, their parts are regenerated and if they are short in half, creating two living beings. "
The speaker's animal science journalist Ben Gilliland is a tunicate or sea squirt Didemnum vexillum called and known as "vomit of rock."
It is, in his words "as an invader of a movie from the '50s science fiction."
Gilliland is not the first nor the only one to refer to this sea creature in such terms, but although it is appropriate marine areas in various parts of the world, what is this well-deserved prestige?
Ascidians have probably been around since about 500 million years.
They are found in all oceans of the world, living in the stillness of a shell or a rock.
They have few natural enemies and how they can reproduce sexually or asexually, exponentially, are theoretically immortal.
The tunicate begins life as a tadpole larva type, eyes, heart and a rudimentary spine.
When you find your home, clinging to a suitable surface and undergoes metamorphosis into an animal becomes barrel-shaped form, which immediately begins to produce clones of himself.
In short - and here is where the science-fiction film has already gelatinous form a broad sheet of several square meters to create their own dead zones in the seabed.
But these areas are they really dead?
Death called dead zones acreditadaLas not represent usually the result of oxidation of huge amounts of organic matter, which causes a complete depletion of oxygen and makes the area an absolutely inappropriate for typical marine life.
"Many bacteria and archaea may be reproduced, even in these difficult conditions. Tunicates can not survive in dead areas, are more the symptom, appear in abundance when large amounts of organic matter, but only to a point."
So that sea squirts are just opportunistic animals that take advantage of the large amount of food available and by no means the cause of these dead zones.
According to Dr. Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo, the real cause of these dead areas are probably contamination.
The visibility of ascidians is preceded by its ability to reproduce abundantly and in very difficult circumstances.
However, their presence in marine ecosystems is rather modest "and that there are good competitors for the substrate, such as algae, sponges and corals," he told BBC Esplá Dr. Alfonso Ramos, Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology, University of Alicante, Spain.
However, some invasive species of sea squirts can pose a real threat, says Dr. Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo
"We are in many areas, mainly in fishing and the cultivation of shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams), because they can grow very quickly and may not have a predator in the area to control the growth of their population naturally."
Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo for "sea squirts are but another example of invasions that result from human agency, that is, by transporting the bodies to areas where none existed, attached to the hulls of boats or on water ballast ".
"Furthermore, the ascidian capture plankton microalgae, digests and transforms the rest in feces. This 'waste' is the power supply, first of microorganisms and detritivorous animals like worms, gastropods and crustaceans," says Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo.
"They do not represent damage to the marine ecosystem," says Dr. Ramos Esplá. "They are a pest because it hurt us as human beings."
Corella minuta. The tunic of ascidians has properties that can help in the fight against cancer.
Some reconstructions of evolutionary history as sea squirts places closest living relatives to vertebrates.
Some of the approximately 2,500 species of sea squirts are sought after food in many countries, especially Japan, Korea, China, Chile and France.
In addition, according to Dr. Ramos Esplá, "are active and very efficient filter feeders. The large species (usually not exceeding 25 centimeters) can filter about 200 quarts a day, so water purifiers are excellent, particularly in ports ".
Apart from its scavenging activity, many ascidians are bioengineer, is capable of creating environments for other species in the cell coat, or tunic, that protects them.
The tunic itself of these animals have chemical properties that make it attractive for the study of human health, as we said Dr. Ramos Esplá.
"The robe has antimitotic substances, ie, blocking cell division. Hence, these substances are being studied in order to treat some types of cancers," he says.
Both experts consulted by BBC agreed that the sea squirt is far from being the global threat that is sometimes attributed to him.
A beautiful sea monster that does not deserve the smear campaign