Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Using live fish, new tool a sentinel for environmental contamination

18.08.2008
Researchers have harnessed the sensitivity of days-old fish embryos to create a tool capable of detecting a range of harmful chemicals.

By measuring rates of oxygen use in developing fish, which are sensitive to contaminants and stressful conditions, the technology could reveal the presence of minute levels of toxic substances before they cause more obvious and substantial harm.

It could be used as an early warning system against environmental contamination or even biological weapons, said Purdue University researcher Marshall Porterfield, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

Respiration, the process wherein animals and other organisms burn oxygen to produce energy, is often the first of a fish's bodily functions affected by contaminants. The technology uses fiber optics to quickly monitor this activity and produce results within minutes, Porterfield said.

"Say you are exposed to the common cold virus," he said. "Before symptoms develop and you become aware of the bug's presence, it has already begun to attack your cells. Similarly, fish and other organisms are affected by contaminants before behavioral changes appear. Our technology detects heretofore undetectable changes to act as an early warning system."

In a study published online last week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the system detected the presence of several common pollutants such as the widely-used herbicide atrazine – even at levels near or below those that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable for drinking water.

"This means the technology could not only help monitor environmental quality but may be used to enforce important water quality standards," said Marisol Sepulveda, lead author and assistant professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue.

Testing also registered noticeable changes in the respiratory activity of fish embryos when the heavy metal cadmium was present at levels 60 times lower than the EPA limit, she said.

Throughout the study, contaminants did not destroy the eggs of laboratory-raised fathead minnows, a commonly studied fish species. This further demonstrates the tool's ability to discern subtle changes before they become fatal, Sepulveda said.

In the laboratory, researchers first manually positioned a tiny optical electrode, or optrode just outside individual embryos of two-day-old fathead minnows. At 1.5 millimeters in diameter, they were slightly smaller than the head of a pin, said primary author and Purdue doctoral student Brian Sanchez.

A fluorescent substance coated the electrode tip, its optical properties varying predictably with oxygen concentration. This allowed researchers to take quick measurements at locations only micrometers apart, moving the electrode via a computer-driven motor, Sanchez said. These readings then allowed researchers to calculate respiration rates within the eggs, he said.

Using a self-referencing technique Porterfield developed over the last decade, he and the team measured each egg with and without contaminants present. This allowed each embryo to serve as its own control, he said, providing more reliable results.

Porterfield said the technology could be used on other organisms. Study co-author and Purdue researcher Hugo Ochoa-Acuña has begun adjusting it to work with a type of crustacean.

A prototype could be ready to test in the field in four years if improvements continue, said Porterfield, a corresponding author. The technology currently tests immobilized eggs in a laboratory setting but there are plans to make the tool more versatile.

Porterfield also said he thinks the technology could have diverse uses. He imagines it could be conjugated with tumor cells to screen potential cancer drugs or help find new therapeutic targets.

During the study the technology detected four of five common pollutants tested, all known to act upon organisms in different ways: atrazine, cadmium, pentachlorophenol – an antifungal – and cyanide. It didn't register low levels of the insecticide malathion, possibly because fathead minnow embryos require more time to elapse for effects to become evident, Sanchez said.

Toxins can slow respiration by directly impeding it or they may stress the organism and cause it to burn more oxygen to provide energy for fighting the stressor, he said.

The most widely-used analogous technology monitors gill movements and other activities of bluegill fish with electrodes secured to the fish's bodies, Sepulveda said. The Purdue system could be advantageous as it records respiration in a sensitive life-stage and the optical equipment doesn't consume oxygen or require the same degree of calibration, Porterfield said.

The study, funded by Purdue's Center for the Environment and the U.S. Department of Education, was different from Sanchez's other research, which is primarily focused upon finding genes and proteins to serve as biomarkers for contaminant exposure in fish.

"This study was all the more exciting to be a part of due to its potential applications in protecting human health," he said.

Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765) 496-2050, dmain@purdue.edu
Sources: Marshall Porterfield, (765) 494-1190, porterf@purdue.edu
Marisol Sepúlveda, (765) 496-3428, mssepulv@purdue.edu
Brian Sanchez, (765) 494-9591, bcsanche@purdue.edu

Douglas M. Main | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.purdue.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Five-point plan to integrate recreational fishers into fisheries and nature conservation policy
20.03.2019 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht Rain is important for how carbon dioxide affects grasslands
06.03.2019 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>