Questions for ‘Sea creatures’ fishy scent protects them from deep-sea high pressures’

an underwater photo of a very large grumpy looking fish looking at the camera

This particularly grumpy-looking ophidiiform cusk eel had its picture snapped at a depth of 1,585 meters (5,200 feet). Its tissues hold a crucial chemical that enables it and other deep-sea fish to endure extreme underwater pressures.

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research/Gulf of Mexico 2017

To accompany ‘Sea creatures’ fishy scent protects them from deep-sea high pressures


Before Reading:

  1. As a class, discuss the experience of diving to the bottom of a deep swimming pool. Make a list of sensations that change as you dive deeper. For example, how does what you see, feel or hear change?
  2. If you visited a fish market blindfolded, how likely would you be to guess your location, even without being able to see? How might your other senses clue you in to your location?  

During Reading:

  1. What is the biggest obstacle to life deep under the sea?
  2. What does trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) smell like? Why do fish have this chemical?
  3. Describe the arrangement of water molecules that is responsible for giving water many of its special properties. What effect does extreme pressure have on this structure of water molecules?
  4. How does underwater pressure affect proteins? 
  5. How does TMAO protect proteins under pressure? 
  6. Based on your reading, describe one way TMAO has been tested for use in medical science. 
  7. What is an example of a deep-water fish species mentioned in this story?

After Reading:

  1. Some scientists have described a visit to our ocean’s deepest depths as more difficult and dangerous in some ways than visiting outer space. What might be the basis for this assertion based on what you’ve read? What are the risks associated with such a truly deep-sea mission? With what challenges must a deep-sea vehicle contend?
  2. Come up with one potential application for chemicals like TMAO beyond what’s mentioned in this story. Explain how such an application could help people.
  3. Imagine you were to write a science-fiction story in which people produced a chemical similar to TMAO, and in similar concentrations as fish. What might those fictional humans be able to do that real humans cannot?