Big things come in small packages. This might even apply to threats from invasive species as well, much like how a tiny mussel no more than an inch in size could lead to endangering the rich ecosystem of the Amazon River.

The golden mussel was originally from China, but it found its way to South America in the 1990s. Since then, it has managed to establish itself, overrunning indigenous plants and animals.

Today, it has a presence in five countries. Experts fear that the golden mussel will find its way into the Amazon, putting one of the most unique ecosystems in the world at risk.

A hardy breeder, the golden mussel need not do anything other than release microscopic larvae to new territories. It does this nine months in a year, and the larvae can stick to hard surfaces like stones and rocks along rivers and man-made structures. It can even stick to other golden mussels, proliferating and forming big reef-like structures in the water.

In Brazil, the invasive mussel has already devastated local clam species, sealing them shut. The golden mussel can also clog pipes, costing water treatment and hydroelectric plants in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo millions of dollars each year just to get them out.

Ducks and local fish can indeed feast on golden mussel, but the invasive species will cause more harm to the food chain than good so it must be kept out of the Amazon River, where more freshwater fish live than in any of the world's other rivers.

So far, the mussel's progression has stalled at the Pantanal wetlands, which is located just 1,200 miles away from the first source of water linking to the Amazon river. Just a liter of water can be home to hundreds of thousands of larvae, so scientists are urging stricter implementation of efforts requiring ships to empty ballast waters before they reach any port in Brazil.

Marcela Uliano da Silva from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has come up with another way to address the invasion, rendering golden mussel infertile to stop their spread. By mapping its genome, a virus may be engineered to attack the golden mussel's reproductive ability directly.

Da Silva is optimistic, but she believes that realistically it would require at least four years for the plan to be carried out.

Despite the wait, however, experts are affirming the solution she proposed, with Marcia Divina de Olivieira, one of the foremost authorities on the golden mussel invasion in Brazil, saying it is "perhaps one of the few paths that could actually help solve the problem."

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