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Back To The Gym — Feds Pay For Shrimp To Hit The Treadmills Again!

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

Shrimp will once again run on a treadmill at taxpayers’ expense.

A National Science Foundation funded-experiment that tested how sickness impaired shrimp mobility by putting the crustaceans on a treadmill made an uproar in the media and in Congress nearly five years ago. Yet the NSF has once again given tax dollars to the same researchers to put the would-be seafood on a cardiovascular workout regime.

NSF awarded $761,978 to the College of Charleston on Jan. 6, 2012 to investigate “how high levels of carbon dioxide in coastal waters interfere with the health of shrimp and crab species,” NSF spokeswoman Jessica Arriens told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This will help us understand how these animals – important both ecologically and economically – can adapt to environmental change.”

The investigators – Louis and Karen Burnett – measure the crustaceans’ responses to low oxygen and high carbon dioxide environments in a variety of ways and would also test their reactions “when performing energetically demanding activities,” according to the award abstract.

“The energetically demanding activities will be conducted with the aid of a treadmill, as the technique is effective and will help to make the data comparable to previous studies,” Arriens said.

Then-Sen. Tom Coburn was first to put the original study in context in his 2011 report “The National Science Foundation: Under The Microscope,” which highlighted more than $3 billion in mismanagement at the agency.

“NSF should be supporting big new ideas to advance scientific knowledge and innovation, rather than wasting money on shrimpy retreads that produce little more than punch lines for late night comedians,” the Oklahoma Republican told TheDCNF. “You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out that these types of silly science projects only invite more scrutiny and undermine NSF’s mission and credibility.”

The new experiment, which is scheduled to end in February 2017, cost $202,297 more than the original, though David Scholnick, a researcher with that investigation, told TheDCNF that money for the first study helped fund other projects.

The original, in fact, caused major blowback and became “shorthand for government waste,” NPR wrote in 2011.

“To be clear, the treadmill did not cost millions of taxpayer dollars, the goal of the research was not to exercise shrimp, and the government did not pay me—or anyone else—to work out shrimp on treadmills.,” Scholnick wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2014.

“Simply put, my colleagues and I were studying how recent changes in the oceans could potentially affect the ability of marine organisms to fight infections—an important question, given that the amount of bacteria a shrimp is able remove from its body is directly related to how much bacteria could potentially end up on seafood-filled plates,” he said.

Scholnick also put the treadmill, which he said cost him $47, up for sale in his article for $1 million as a publicity stunt, though it wasn’t bought, he told TheDCNF.

“It’s not a big jump to make between the amount of bacteria and viruses in the food we eat and the health of humans,” he told TheDCNF. “The grant that went to Lou and Karen Burnett was reviewed and peer reviewed. There was nothing nefarious at all.”

However, Scholnick – who is not part of the latest experiment – couldn’t pinpoint any affects on humans who consumed sick shrimp.

“The first step is trying to find out what’s happening in the animal,” he said. “It’s a long way before finding out what’s happening in humans.”

Arriens did, however, report some of the first experiment’s results.

“The research showed that exposure to bacteria, plus elevated levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, can alter the life history and growth of crustaceans,” she told TheDCNF. “Understanding how crustaceans respond to bacterial exposures, high acidity, pollution and other stressors provides insights into how these important creatures are affected by environmental change.

“Besides playing an important role in the marine ecosystem, crustaceans are part of the multi-billion dollar (in the U.S. alone) seafood industry. If we want to protect this industry and the marine ecosystem, we need to understand how increasing environmental stresses affect them.”

Neither Louis nor Karen Burnett responded to requests for comment from TheDCNF.

In case you forgot what shrimp running on a treadmill looks like (be sure to check out related videos set to music):

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