Studies that haven’t been done, but can and should be done

One of my weekly science blogs in the past had dealt with “Experiments that shouldn’t be done, can’t be done or can but won’t be done”, but I also think of studies that haven’t been done, can be done and should be done. Some (that I won’t disclose in this blog), I may be able to tackle myself in the future, others that I shall now mention are projects I’d love to carry out but for various reasons won’t be able to.

Honey bees, for example, are known to rather precisely visit flowers when they open in the morning and reveal their pollen and nectar sources. One can even teach bees to arrive at a feeding table at a particular time, e.g. 09.00 o’clock, to lap up a sugar solution reward. During spring in northern Finland the days get longer every day. Depending on the latitude the differences from day to day can be as big as 15 to 20 minutes during the maximal daytime lengthening period in March and April. Bees, we all know, are smart little insects, but can they anticipate time shifts? Once trained to receive food at 9.00 o’clock on day one, but then given food at 9.20 the next day, 9.40 the following, 10.00 the day after that, etc, i.e. with a 20 minute delay each successive day, would bees understand that food appears a little later every day? It would be remarkable if they could adjust to the constantly delayed feeding time and anticipate the correct time of feeding, appearing at the feeding station 20 minutes late each day.

My second project involves aquatic newts; vertebrates in other words that are famous for being able to regenerate severed body parts, including legs, parts of the tail, even an eye. But does “exercise” speed up the regeneration and healing process? If one surgically removes the last 1 cm of the tail of a number of identically long newts and keeps half of the operated animals in an aquarium with water filled to a depth of 2 cm, they would not have to swim to the surface to take a breath of air, but simply lift their head out of the water. The other half of the operated animals should also be kept in an aquarium, but filled with 25 cm deep water. If they want to take a breath of air, they’d need to swim to the surface and thereby use their now shortened tails for propulsion. My working hypothesis is that the newts which are forced to exercise their tails will experience a faster tail tip regeneration. And that could be interesting.

My third project is more involved and cannot be done by a single scientist. The idea for this project came to me a long time ago when I participated in the “Walther Herwig” fishery research expedition to the South Atlantic Ocean in 1967. When the ship crossed the so-called Walvis Ridge off the coast of Namibia, I studied the hydrographic charts, because I was interested in trying to catch some deep sea organisms with a special deep water net. The chart revealed that the submersed Walvis Ridge was a 3000 km long mountain range in an East-Southwest direction with multiple, deep canyon-like valleys, separated from neighboring ones by mountain ranges often 2 – 3,000 metres high as well as many seamounts mapped in 2012 by Oregon State University’s 2012 “R/V Melville” cruise MV1203. Obviously there was in the Walvis Ridge the possibility of rather isolated ‘pockets’ of very deep environments protected and shielded from neigbouring deep sea “valleys” by seemingly high barriers, sea mounts and guyots.

Not having followed up marine research in that part of the Atlantic, I cannot say for certain whether these “underwater valleys” have received any attention and whether, in fact, the hydrographic charts I had seen were reliable and correct. However, assuming they were representing the real situation, then I’d expect some unique benthic organisms in these deep underwater canyons and valleys. Pelagic fish can probably swim across the mountainous barriers, but organisms at the bottom? For them it would be harder. If I had the means, I’d organize an expedition to this part of the world to explore the “Deep Unknown in the Valleys of the Walvis Ridge” and recover treasures of hitherto unseen organisms!

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2021.
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