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Fish research leads Carrollton native to...

By Leigh Ann Rutledge
Accent Editor

Dr. Jeff Grim
Dr. Jeff Grim and a fish specimen from Antarctica

A Carrollton native is heading to Antarctica for a second time.

Dr. Jeff Grim, a marine biologist, is the son of Bill and Pam Grim of Carrollton.  He will leave the states at the end of April or beginning of May for six weeks to continue research on unique fish found in Antarctica. In 2009, Grim was stationed on the western Antarctic Peninsula at Palmer Station, one of three United States research facilities in Antarctica.   He and fellow scientists were studying a family of fish known as Nototheniods, which was discovered in Antarctica in the 1950s.  These fish live like any other species of fish except they do not have red blood. Their blood and organs are transparent.  These “ice fish” have adapted to the coldwater temperatures and thrived.  With no red blood and therefore no hemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout their bodies, these species have compensated to keep balance in their bodies for survival.  The fish have larger hearts, more body fat, more blood and antifreeze proteins in their systems.    

“Everyone takes oxygen into the body.  However, all the oxygen is not used properly by the body and becomes known as ‘bad oxygen.’  Antioxidants in the body then fight the bad oxygen to keep you going,” Grim explained.   “Imagine a set of scales, bad oxygen should be equal to antioxidants.  If one is out of balance, the other compensates to make up the difference.”  Grim and his fellow scientists want to discover what enabled these species to compensate.

This species evolved over time without a swim bladder.  The swim bladder allows the fish to float up and down in the water.  With no swim bladder, the fish compensated and some of the species have a lighter skeleton, which is more like cartilage than bone.  “A lighter skeleton allows the fish to float easier,” said Grim.  “We want to understand the signal pathway from cartilage to hard skeleton.”    Grim will help finish up work the group started in 2009 and then will focus his attention on skeletal research. 

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Health, Grim will not spend all his time in a laboratory.  He will fly to Chili, were he will board the ARSV Laurence M. Gould, a US Antarctic Program research vessel for the four-day trip to Palmer Station.   All gear, such as fishing supplies and beaker laboratory tubes, will be loaded on board at Chili and transported to the station.  The ship, an ice breaking vessel, is about 130-foot long and often has to manage rough seas on its way to Palmer Station.

Grim will share 12-hour fishing shifts with the group members to gather fish for research.  Fishing from the Laurence M. Gould, fish will be caught in nets (trawls) from the rear of the boat or in large metal pots, similar to crab traps.  The group will fish three or four days at a time.  Fish range in size from 1 to 3 1/2 feet in length.  Grim will also do invitro fertilization and will bring embryos to the US for research.

A total of 20-35 people will be at the research station with Grim.  Palmer Station, the smallest of the three research stations, has about six buildings, which include a kitchen, dining room, sleeping quarters, lounge, aquariums and laboratories.  Scientists and support staff sign on for a specified period of time and then rotate out.  However, a few support staff will stay on site during the “winter season.” 

Palmer Station and the Antarctic Peninsula, while in a desolate remote area, has a “beauty and range of colors that is astonishing” Grim noted.  “ We walk on glaciers that are miles thick.  In our downtime, we keep busy hiking, skiing or sled riding on the glaciers,” he said.  While no one is allowed on the water alone, anyone can hike by himself or herself.  For safety purposes, any person going outside the buildings area must sign out on a board and is required to take a walkie-talkie in case of an emergency.

On his previous trip, Grim saw penguins, several different types of seals and whales.  Due to the currents in the Drake Passage, whales are able to migrate from Antarctica but the other sea life stay in the region. 

Inside the station, there is a well-stocked library, a lounge area, a gym, a hot tub and pool table.  The brave few even swim in the 31-degree Fahrenheit water.  Grim said, “It is nice to be a little less connected.  There is a lot of inter-communication between everyone.   I spend a lot of time talking to people.”  They can be “connected” with everyone if they chose; they have Internet access and cell phone service at the Station.

Once Grim leaves Palmer Station, he will return to Chili where he and the other scientists will pack the samples for shipment to the US, pack the gear away and tie up all loose ends before they return.  Once he returns, he will continue his research at Northeastern University in Boston, where he resides with his wife, Cheryl, an assistant school principal.  Amid research, he will also teach “Principles of Biology I” to undergraduates.  He estimates close to 200 students will be in his lectures. 

Grim graduated from Carrollton High School in 1998 and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tampa in 2002.  He remained in Florida, receiving his master’s degree from the University of Western Florida in Pensacola in 2005.  At that time, he decided he had a good basic knowledge of warm water fish and wanted to learn about cold-water fish.  He moved to Athens and received his doctorate degree in Marine Biology from Ohio University. 

Grim’s interest in Marine Biology began by going fishing with this father and grandfather when he was a child.  The family would often vacation at the ocean and he began to realize there was a lot of neat stuff in the ocean.  Watching PBS and Discovery Channel, it dawned on him how big the oceans are and how little we actually know about them and the animals that inhabit them.   Thus he began his college studies and now his research.  Through his research, he and other scientists may be able to discover better treatments or possibly cures for bone and blood diseases, such as osteoporosis or sickle cell anemia. 

The FPS will have contact with Grim when he leaves and readers will be able to ask him questions during his visit.

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