DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - With the threat of a growing zebra mussel infestation in North Texas, local researchers are working overtime to find ways to combat the invasive species.
At the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Dr. John Schetz is using the bio-chemical expertise he developed fighting barnacles to tackle the zebra mussel problem.
Regional leaders believe the need couldn't be more urgent. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials announced last week that the mussels have gotten into Ray Roberts Lake, part of the Trinity River water basin.
Scientists say the mussels are proliferate breeders, and only take a few years to overwhelm underwater intake valves, boat hulls and local fish stocks. And since both Texoma Lake and Ray Roberts Lake are part of the North Texas water supply, the concern is magnified.
While Dr. Schetz said that his research won't help reduce the mussel population, it will help keep infrastructure free of the mollusks.
In his lab, Dr. Schetz showed CBS 11 News a glass slide coated with a thin layer of his chemical compound. The way it works is that it keeps the glue that zebra mussels excrete from getting sticky.
Hair grows from the mussels, that serves as anchors to attach to rocks or man-made objects (or even native mussels or the skins of crayfish). Actually, these hairs are more like anchor lines. At the end of the anchor is the glue. But of course, glue couldn't flow through their tubes, so what they secrete is a resin. Then they secrete a hardener, actually an enzyme, that cuts the protein bonds of the resin and makes it sticky.
What Dr. Schetz's compound does is neutralize the hardener. The glue never sticks, so the zebra mussel moves on. The hope is to produce a paint that has this compound in it.
Dr. Schetz has already helped produce a similar paint that repels saltwater barnacles in much the same way. Same technique, just a different chemistry problem.
Researchers had hoped that the pesky mollusk might not survive in the warm waters of the south, but that has not panned out, Dr. Schetz said. "Over time, we've come to realize that their thermo-tolerance, thermal limits, have changed, and are now able to adapt to warmer climates," he said.
Dr. Schetz is hoping to find more funding to further his research.
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