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Scientist Takes Oarfish to UCLA

Sea-Serpent-Like Fish Undergoes CT Scan

Nov. 26, 2013

Kathryn Dickson

Kathryn Dickson, chair and professor of biological science, preps the 14-foot oarfish for a CT scan Nov. 21 at UCLA’s Translational Research Imaging Center. CSUF and UCLA scientists teamed to study the mysterious deep-sea fish.

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As part of ongoing research efforts to learn more about the giant oarfish that washed ashore in Oceanside in October, Cal State Fullerton's marine biomechanist Misty Paig-Tran packed up the frozen remains of the 14-foot-long sea-serpent-like fish for a recent trip to UCLA for a CT scan.

Paig-Tran, a lecturer in biological science who studies deep-water fish, arranged for the scan of the 250-pound oarfish with researchers at UCLA's Translational Research Imaging Center. The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with the most sophisticated diagnostic and interventional imaging technologies available.

The CT data will allow Paig-Tran to create 3-D reconstructions of the oarfish with the focus on the skeleton to assess its mineralization, or the extent to which the skeleton is hardened by the deposit of minerals. This rarely seen fish lives in deep waters and is known as the world's longest bony fish. One of the questions Paig-Tran is hoping to answer is why some deep-sea fishes, like the oarfish, are so "bendy."

Kathryn Dickson, chair and professor of biological science who also studies fish and accompanied Paig-Tran to UCLA, said two other fish also were scanned: a ribbonfish, which is similar in body shape and swims like the oarfish by undulating its long, crimson dorsal fin; and an opah, known to move up and down with depth in the water, and a specimen from Dickson's published research. All three species are in the same fish order, known as Lampridiformes, Dickson explained.

"Dr. Paig-Tran will now be armed with a set of data that will allow her to view the characteristics of the oarfish in the context of its close relatives," Dickson explained.

"Her study will contribute to our understanding of how diverse fishes 'make a living' in the deep sea, where conditions are very different than near the surface and coast," Dickson added. "It is cold and dark with high hydrostatic pressure. In some places, including off the coast of California and at the depths where these fishes are found, the water can be hypoxic with low oxygen content. There are also fewer organisms, which affects reproduction and food availability."

Operated by faculty and staff from the UCLA Department of Radiology, the Translational Research Imaging Center is designed for the development and testing of new medical devices and drugs prior to their use in human clinical trials. The center also features high-definition video and ultra-high-quality digital audio technology to enable scientists to collaborate, teach and learn with others in real time, anywhere, according to the institution.

"Overall, we were incredibly impressed with UCLA and their team," said Paig-Tran. The team included Michael McNitt-Gray, professor of radiology who performed the scans, and Dieter Enzmann, chairman of the Department of Radiology — both at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "They made the magic happen," she added. "UCLA had everything organized, and everyone involved was patient with the process. This kind of collaboration is essential in our research efforts."

In addition to reconstructing the skeleton, next steps in the oarfish research include making a model of the fish, looking for any internal hard trauma the fish may have experienced, and dissecting the fish to remove bone for materials testing and examination of the cellular structure, said Paig-Tran, who earned her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Washington. She's targeting early next year for initial research results.

For more photos, go online.


Media Contacts:

Misty Paig-Tran, Biological Science
Debra Cano Ramos or 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research