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St. Petersburg, Florida -- A new study says the BP oil disaster not only wiped out huge populations of fish, but it's also created deformities and genetic defects in others.

Those conclusions were reached with the help of University of South Florida researchers.

Steve Murawski, a USF marine biologist who read the study before it was published, calls it significant.

The information, he said, suggests that the BP oil spill not only killed developing fish, but may have caused heart problems and other deformities that could affect fish populations in the future.

It also raises questions about the future of some fish species.

"Have we changed the genetic makeup so they might be more vulnerable for succeeding generations? And that, we don't know," said Murawski.

What scientists do know is that they were able to replicate the water and oil mixture created by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in a California lab using water samples collected after the disaster by ships like USF's Weatherbird.

They then bred fish, including tuna and amber jack, in huge tanks and documented detrimental distortions to the eyes, hearts, and body shapes of those fish.

"These hearts are still in the developmental stage, and so any pollution can be problematic for them," said Murawski.

The data is important to people like Dave Zalewski, who's operated a fishing charter 35 years. Business is good again, he said. Personally, he's seen no sign of the study's concerns and hopes it stays that way.

"You know, we've had four years since the spill anyway, and a lot of times genetic mutations take a long time. But I haven't seen any fish with three fins and four eyes and anything like that," he said.

Scientists say it's a safe bet that other species of fish have suffered similar issues in similar numbers.

BP discounted the study. A spokesman said the oil concentrations used in the experiments were rarely seen in the gulf after the accident.

Still, the U.S. government will likely use these findings to bolster its civil suit against BP. A damage assessment which, even after four years, is still being assessed.

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