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Stalking the Freshwater Sponges of Western Pennsylvania

Monroeville Public Library
Event organized by Monroeville Public Library

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Please join biologist Marc Yergin for a fascinating up-close look at the freshwater sponges of western Pennsylvania, some of which could possibly be found in the streams that run behind your house!

Sponges are a very ancient and highly successful group of animals. Sponge fossils have been found in rocks that are more than 760 to 600 million years old. They are considered sister animals to all other groups of animals, including humans. Although they are very ancient, they have become the source of some of the newest antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs.

Sponges are found in oceans and freshwater. They are the simplest multicellular organisms and have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them. In freshwater they attach themselves to rocks and logs and filter the water for various small aquatic organisms such as protozoans, bacteria, and other free-floating pond life.

Marc Yergin was a marine biology major in southern California and studied marine sponges off the beaches of Malibu until he was asked to take a six-month vacation in 1967, during the height of the Vietnam War. Instead of being drafted, he joined and was trained as a clinical laboratory medical technologist. After many decades working in clinical labs, he retired from both his job and his 24-year stint in the Army, returning to doing what he likes -- being a biologist and studying sponges under the auspices of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.