Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017DC189B

Anatomical and Behavioral Outcomes of Toxicant Exposure in the Anacostia River: Building a Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Model of Biological River Health

Institute: District of Columbia
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $9,980 Total Non-Federal Funds: $20,732

Principal Investigators: Victoria Connaughton

Abstract: In the heart of our nation’s capital lies one of the ten most contaminated rivers in the United States, the Anacostia1. Once a popular center for trade and commerce, the Anacostia has earned itself the colloquial title of America’s “Forgotten River”2. Rapid urbanization, industrial activity and runoff have all played a role in transforming the River from a biologically rich, healthy ecosystem to an ecologically threatened environment facing extensive pollution – all in a period of only 400 years3,4. In recent decades, numerous research groups and government agencies have documented the extensive pollution that now plagues the region, but few have examined the biological health of organisms residing within the watershed, or the resulting impacts on human health in the surrounding DC community. The current study aims to examine some of the biological consequences brought about by the extensive pollution known to impact the Anacostia waterway. Specifically, we propose to develop a bioassay with zebrafish that could be used to determine the biological impact of Anacostia River contaminants. Using water sampled from the Anacostia at Washington Navy Yard, a site along the River facing a long history of contamination, we will perform 3 sets of experiments. First, water quality analysis will be performed on these water samples to identify the major bioactive contaminant(s) in the water samples. Following this chemical analysis, zebrafish eggs/larvae/juveniles will be reared in water samples taken from the Navy Yard site so that changes in growth, survival, behavior, and anatomy can be determined across a developmental timeframe (fertilization to 30 days postfertilization). These experiments will be conducted in lab to allow for improved tracking of anatomical and behavioral effects. Finally, a follow-up set of controlled experiments will directly expose zebrafish to the predominant contaminant(s) in the water samples identified in the first phase of the study. The overall outcomes of these experiments will allow us to: (1) develop a repeatable bio-assay with a known model species, (2) identify the immediate and long-term effects of key bioactive contaminants, and (3) determine the overall combined biological impact of Anacostia water samples taken from Washington Navy Yard. This information and technique could be used in future to measure health of the Anacostia without disturbing local fish populations and provide information on contaminants that may require the most immediate attention.