Opinion

During idle times, saving squid comes to mind

This past week was Spring Break for our island schools. Many island families headed south for a little R&R at warm weather destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico or Palm Springs, while others headed off to cooler climes for a little spring skiing. Other families hit the road for that annual high school ritual – the College Tour Road Trip.

Those members of my household not already attending a college headed out on just such a trip last week. At least that’s what they told me. Judging solely from the images they sent to me over my telephone, it’s hard to see how they worked in time to visit any actual colleges between stops at the beach, In-and-Out hamburger stands, and visits with friends, family and department stores. I didn’t even know they had a college in Beverly Hills. The dog and I stayed home. I’m not sure what she did all day, but I mainly worked hard at looking like I was working hard. Oh, and I went to Opening Day at Safeco Field.

I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the game (Mariners won), the general Opening Day ambiance (cold and snowy in the outfield bleachers; fans already in mid-season heckling form), or my predictions for the Mariners this year (better than last year, but not quite good enough to dream about The Big Dance.) I’m sorry to report that I didn’t have the opportunity to test-eat any of the new Safeco Field food items on Opening Day. I’m excited by Safeco’s new Sea Dog, a fillet of cod stuffed in a bun, the foot-long bratwurst, and the fried catfish. I think I’ll skip the alder-plank salmon. At $15.50, I think it’s a bit pricey for stadium food.

And speaking of Sea Dogs, when I wasn’t shivering through Opening Day or pretending to be busy at work, I spent most of my time last week pondering a study by scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara on squid.

Up until now, I’ve always thought about squid, when I think of them at all, as an ugly, boneless form of sea life whose primary claim to fame is serving as the early stages of calamari. As reported in the most recent issue of “Science,” scientists have discovered something about squid beaks that may some day lead to the development of new and better artificial limbs. Squid scientists have wondered for years how the soft-tissued, boneless squid manage to operate their sharp beaks without hurting themselves. One scientist described the phenomena (or as my friend Steve Sadowski would still correctly say, phenomenon) as like trying to place an X-Acto knife blade in a block of fairly firm Jell-O and then trying to use it to chop celery. (Which, by the way, is an exact description of what Richie Sexson looked like he was trying to do at the plate on Opening Day.)

It turns out that the squid’s beak is made of chiton, which I think is either a type of seasoning or something from the onion family. The chiton changes density gradually from the hard tip of the beak to the softer, more flexible base where it attaches to a muscle around the squid’s mouth. This allows the squid to use its beak to slash away at sharks and chomp other fish for dinner, but avoids damaging the squid’s soft tissue. Scientists are excited about the possible broader applications of this type of progressive composition. It could lead to the creation of new implant materials, new bonding materials between different body parts, or perhaps entirely new forms of prosthesis that mimic the chemistry of the squid beak.

I like this story, and not just because I like calamari. I like knowing that at this late date in the 21st century, we can discover something important from a simple, often neglected creature like the humble squid. And if we learn something important from squid beaks, then who knows what else there is out there that we can learn from. But to learn anything from the Earth’s many creatures, we have to make sure we don’t drive them to extinction first. The species we eliminate today might have been the one whose biochemistry held the key to curing cancer or maybe even growing whole new organs or appendages. So be kind to the squid and our other chiton-beaked friends. One day they may be responsible for making more people walk than Eric Bedard and Jarrod Washburn combined.

Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney

for the Trust for Public Land. He is author

of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”

a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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