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The Cost of a Shrimp Treadmill

Back in 2006, a research team headed by David A. Scholnick studied the effects of bacteria on crustaceans. The research was published in The Biological Bulletin under the title "Impact of Exposure to Bacteria on Metabolism in the Penaeid Shrimp Litopenaeus vannamei." However, once a video clip was introduced to the internet, the project became known as “Shrimp on a Treadmill.” In the years since, the study has become a go-to example for politicians complaining about wasteful government spending on scientific research. Sholnick took to The Chronicle of Higher Education to explain how much the treadmill actually cost.

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.

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. And since shrimp are active animals in nature, it was logical to study the immune response of shrimp during activity.

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. (All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.)

Sholnick still has the treadmill, which he is willing to sell for a million dollars, all of which will go to support marine biology research. But even better than that, it gives me an opportunity to repost the video that caused the controversy in the first place.

(YouTube link)

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