It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for lamprey)

  My previous post discussed the chemistry behind food - with particular attention given to Thanksgiving food comas. With the holiday season upon us, I thought it would only be fair to incorporate this topic of food with another favorite topic of mine: lampreys.

What is a lamprey?
  All the way back in August, I introduced lamprey in the debate between making science interesting and being scientifically accurate.  While informative with examples of popular science versus credible and interesting science, this post didn't go into too much detail on lampreys themselves.
  Working in Dr. Stacia Sower's lab, a world expert on lamprey neuroendocrinology, I've come to know quite a bit about lampreys - with plenty more to learn!  Allow me to share my newly-gained knowledge:
  Lampreys look like eels, but are, in fact, a totally different and more primitive fish.  Lampreys are more primitive in the sense that they are basal vertebrates [1].  This means that, like you and I, lampreys possess a characteristic of having a backbone or spinal cord.  We - Homo sapiens - are a recently-evolved species of this group, whereas lampreys are one of the oldest-evolved species in this group.  Hence, why they are referred to as being more primitive.  They (lampreys) have a lineage extending over 550 million years, which is why it is important to study them for an evolutionary comparison to more modern vertebrates, such as ourselves [2].  For example, examining the genetics and other characteristics of lampreys may provide insight the fundamental reasons why organisms evolved backbones and spinal cords so long ago.

What a lamprey (left) looks like in comparison to an eel (right).

What a lamprey (left) looks like in comparison to an eel (right).

  In summation, a lamprey is a basal vertebrate much more primitive than an eel.
Because lampreys are basal vertebrates, the scientific community benefits from studying them as a tool for evolutionary comparison.
  Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic about lampreys, however, is their teeth.  The teeth are specialized for feeding on hosts, mostly other fish.  The damage they cause to fish as an invasive species in the Great Lakes costs the nation millions annually.

Parasitic lampreys use these teeth to feed on fish.

Parasitic lampreys use these teeth to feed on fish.

Not to worry - we tend to eat lamprey, not the other way around.

People EAT these things?!
  
 You read correctly folks.  Just like eating eel at a sushi restaurant, eating lamprey can be a delicious experience....right?  So, in case you're not sure what to cook up this holiday season, here are some tasty recipes for lamprey from around the globe:

- The infamous lamprey pie (UK): a particular favorite during the holidays
Lamprey bordelaise (France)
Fried lamprey (US)
- Lamprey minho (Portugal)

  Now you're all set to cook your family and friends a primitive....I mean...delicious meal they'll never forget!

Questions?  Comments?  Confusions?