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Precision Omics for Aquatic wildlife health assessment

PRecision Omics for AQUAtic wildlife health assessment

A growing number of substances released into the environment have been identified as disruptors of critical, normal hormone-dependent mechanisms in humans and animals. These endocrine disruptors come from a variety of sources such as plants, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, environmental pollutants, and industry. The impact of these diverse compounds is far-reaching; from effects on human and wildlife health to contributing to wildlife population declines and resultant ecosystem imbalances. Particularly vulnerable are those life stages where considerable modeling or remodeling of existing body plans occur such as in embryonic development, metamorphosis, infancy, childhood and lactation. Thus, exposure to endocrine disruptors at any of these critical stages could result in permanent dysfunction, increased susceptibility to certain cancers and reproductive problems reaching as far as multiple generations. It is critical to have the appropriate tools in place to identify the existence of endocrine disruptors in water samples (where most will eventually end up) and to properly evaluate any endocrine disruptor risk in chemicals that are to be released into our environment. Amphibians, fish, marine mammals, bivalves, and other wildlife species are our sentinels.

By developing and using a wide range of molecular approaches that include RNA-Seq, quantitative real time PCR, metabolomics and proteomics techniques and sequencing the first “true frog” genome, we are uncovering the mechanisms of action of potential endocrine disruptors and are gaining insight into how hormones function in different tissues and species. Particular interest is in the development and use of non-lethal sampling methods including environmental DNA assessments.

Cellular mechanisms of amphibian metamorphosis

Tadpoles undergo remarkable remodeling of the body plan in anticipation of the transition from an aquatic to a terrestrial lifestyle. The same hormone can have very different effects on tadpole tissues (for e.g. the tail disappears and the legs grow) and my research program focuses on understanding how these differences come about. We hypothesize that there are specific genes that contribute to these differences and we will identify them and examine the molecular switches that regulate how they work. Understanding this is important because it gives us fundamental information on how hormones can have very diverse effects and it gives us insight into why some tissues are more sensitive to environmental contaminants and how these contaminants could disturb hormone action.

To accomplish these goals, we are using powerful biochemical and bioinformatics techniques (listed above) to examine the interplay between cell cycle regulating proteins, epigenetic components, and phosphorylation in determining cellular outcome. Since frogs are vertebrates and TH signaling is important in all vertebrates, the knowledge obtained by studying them can be easily applied to humans and, hence, will give us important clues in understanding the basis of diseases including cancer and metabolic disorders.

Adult male bullfrog, Rana catesbiana

Last Update: September 2017