State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project Id: 2010ME214B
Title: Fish Scales as Non-Lethal Biosensors of Surface Water Contaminants
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2010
End Date: 2/28/2011
Congressional District: second
Focus Categories: Toxic Substances, Water Quality, Methods
Keywords: Bioindicators, biomonitoring, organic compounds, pollutants, toxic substances, trace elements, trace organics, wastewater
Principal Investigators: Van Beneden, Rebecca; Ashworth, Sharon L (University of Maine); Elskus, Adria; Gosse, Julie Ann; Perkins, Brian
Federal Funds: $ 10,784
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 74,483
Abstract: Universal, rapid, and sensitive screening tools are urgently needed that can detect trace levels of both legacy and emerging chemicals (e.g. pharmaceuticals), and measure biological responses in threatened and endangered fish species non-lethally. We hypothesize that fish scales, shown in our laboratory and others to detect low part per billion levels of toxicants in water, have enormous potential as such non-lethal biosensors. Long recognized for their utility as surrogates for human bone, fish scales may be cultured and will respond to a broad variety of both endogenous (e.g. hormones) and exogenous (e.g. metals, PCBs) substances [1-5]. Surprisingly, their utility as environmental biosensors has not been explored. Our objectives are to: 1) evaluate the response of fish scales to three classes of contaminants found in surface waters: metals (mercury), endocrine disruptors (ethinylestradiol), and pharmaceuticals (fluoxetine) using metallothionein, estrogen receptor, and CYP1A activity as endpoints, respectively , 2) determine dose-response relationships, 3) determine the temporal response of scales to each toxicant, 4) develop a plate-based assay to measure scale protein, and 5) conduct a preliminary evaluation of potential mixture effects on these endpoints. The strength of the scale assay is that it provides both an in vitro screening tool (biochemical effects of chemicals can be evaluated in microplates of scales) and an in vivo biosensor of fish response (scales from wild-caught or caged fish can be used as first pass sensors to evaluate water quality in a given habitat). This technique could be used with any scale-bearing fish species. We will expose scales from Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), listed as endangered in Maine in 2000, in vitro to the chemicals listed above for 3 to 18 hours, and evaluate their response using enzymatic (e.g. CYP1A activity) and molecular (RT-PCR) assays. Screening for contaminants using fish scales will provide a rapid, inexpensive, non-lethal and biologically relevant first pass indicator of water quality for sensing the presence of bioactive chemicals in surface water and the exposure to such compounds by endangered and threatened fish species.

Progress/Completion Report, 2010, PDF

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