Cells are the building blocks of life. Fishery scientists use the SEM to get a closer look at the structure, function, and health of individual cells, which ultimately helps improve understanding of the aquatic organisms themselves.
A group of scientists in the NWFSC’s Ecotoxicology Program investigate the impacts of chemical contamination, such as pesticides and heavy metals, on fish health. Using the SEM, these scientists discovered that low levels of contaminants may not kill fish outright, but they may cause sublethal changes in the health of individual cells that are not apparent to the naked eye. SEM images have revealed damaged sensory cells that are part of the lateral line and the nose, which can affect a fish’s ability to school, avoid predators, hunt for food, or find their way back to their natal river to spawn.