Biology and marine biology students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington will have an opportunity to study the ecological impacts of manufactured chemicals on estuarine fish after the university received a substantial grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The $399,884 Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant will fund a three-year research project to be conducted in UNCW’s Center for Marine Science located on the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as inside an on-campus laboratory in Dobo Hall.
“We’ll start out exposing the eggs of the parent generation,” said Susanne Brander, a UNCW professor leading the project. “We’ll get some eggs and expose those to particular chemicals that interfere with hormone function just until they’re almost juveniles, at about 21 days old, and we’ll rear them up over three generations to see if the effects on the parents are passed on to the subsequent generations.”
Brander said a Ph.D. student, a graduate student and undergraduates will work together to study epigenetic effects of toxin exposure, which change the way genes are expressed in the organisms’ cells.
“UNCW is great about getting undergrads involved in hands-on research,” Brander said. “We have what’s called a directed individual study program, and so undergraduates will get credit for doing research in a lab. They can contact a faculty member whose research they’re interested in.”
Brander said the estuarine fish that will be used in the study reach maturity at six to eight months, and that three years will give her and her students sufficient time to raise several generations of the species.
“The part of the research that involves rearing fish will happen at the Center for Marine Science where we have lots of space for tanks and lots of space to keep many groups of fish over a long period of time,” she said. “We’re going to look at effects across several generations of fish. Here on campus, we can do the more detailed work. We have a microscopy lab.”
The EPA also awarded funds to five other universities for the study of the ecological consequences of chemical toxins in organisms’ environments. Other grant recipients include the University of California Santa Barbara, which will develop a model to demonstrate how exposure to chemicals affects an organism; Harvard University, which will develop a framework for creating regulations regarding the research findings; Michigan State University, which will study the neurological functions of fish affected by toxins; Oregon State University, which will research the negative impacts of flame retardants; and Texas Tech University, which will develop an approach to predict individual-to-community-level effects of chemical toxins.
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