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USF scientists dissect fish eyes to track change in oceans

Reported by Janan Talafer for 83 Degrees - ST. PETERSBURG, FL -
Julie Vecchio looks into a microscope at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg and deftly wields a set of tweezers.

She carefully separates layers of paper-thin tissue from a tiny, round object. It’s a task like peeling an onion, only more delicate and it doesn’t make your eyes water. That’s because the object she’s dissecting is the lens from the eye of a fish.

Vecchio is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the marine resource assessment program. She is studying the internal chemistry of fish on the West Florida Shelf, an area in the Gulf of Mexico known for its abundance of grouper and snapper prized by both diners and fishermen.  

The immediate goal is to get answers about the diet of the fish, their habitat and living conditions, as well as their movements underwater over their lifespan.  

The bigger picture is about sustainability. Her research can help give clues about the health of our oceans and the impact that environmental challenges like pollution, red tide, climate change, and over-fishing can have on marine life.  

Studying the internal chemistry of fish to learn more about the external chemistry of the ocean environment is not a new idea. But the technique Vecchio is using to do her research and the questions she is asking are innovative.  

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