Fish as Sentinels

We study various teleost fish species and conduct field and laboratory studies that integrate functional genomics analyses, in vitro and in vivo physiological and biochemical assays, and mathematical modeling tools. Our goals are to

  1. Examine mechanisms of biochemical and physiological responses to changes in the chemical and physical environment.
  2. Develop predictors of ecological and human health consequences of environmental change.
  3. Establish teaching and outreach tools for student and community engagement.

1. Chemical mixtures and a mysterious kidney disease in tropical farming communities.

An emergence of a mysterious kidney disease epidemic in several agricultural communities around the world has highlighted a key knowledge gap in the effects of environmental contaminant mixtures on kidney development and function. Sri Lanka is our primary field site where 5-20% of the adult population in endemic regions are diagnosed with CKDu. To explore the role of agrochemical mixtures in etiology of kidney damage, ongoing studies are focused on

  1. Epidemiological studies assessing kidney dysfunction in children
  2. Mechanistic studies using laboratory reared and wild-caught fish including zebrafish
  3. In silico analysis of chemical compound structures to predict metal-pesticide interactions
  4. Targeted and non-targeted chemical analyses of drinking water



2. Canaries in the coal mine: fish living in polluted habitats

In these studies we examine mechanisms and fitness consequences of rapid evolution to pollution and primarily focus on a population of Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) that has evolved resistance to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) mixtures. Studies utilize a range of physiological studies and next generation sequencing approaches (e.g., transcriptomic and methylomic analyses) to explore mechanisms of toxicity (e.g., the role of aryl hydrocarbon receptor). We also take advantage of the zebrafish (Danio rerio) model to further examine mechanisms of interest.





3. Mitochondrial biology in a changing world: mitochondria as a vulnerable target of abiotic stressors and a predictor of species’ response to environmental change

Mitochondria are a sensitive target of environmental perturbations. We examine changes in mitochondrial function and structures (i.e., mitochondrial membrane and DNA) during embryonic development in several fish species (e.g., Atlantic salmon, reef dwelling clownfish, and zebrafish) and explore short- and long-term fitness consequences of mitochondrial perturbation early in life. Ongoing studies are also focused using mitochondrial function as a predictor of species distribution in rapidly changing environments.





4.Healthy water: assessing rural water quality through citizen science and community engagement

We are developing zebrafish based high throughput assays as effect directed analyses to test for water quality in areas that are potentially impacted by one or more contaminants. These studies provide a powerful approach to demonstrating toxicity of drinking water to the impacted communities. The studies are partly driven by local middle school children and teachers and the goal is to engage students in analysis of water quality data to improve data literacy and water literacy. Current efforts are addressing well water arsenic contamination in Maine and agrochemical contamination of drinking water in Sri Lanka. Community engagement in Maine is conducted in partnership with Dr. Jane Disney, Mount Deseret Island Biological Laboratory, ME.