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NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology FY 2019: Oxidative stress and immune function markers to elucidate and differentiate impacts of acute and chronic stress in marine mammals

Filson, Tolbert David
Pennsylvania State University
Start date
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This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2019, Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. The fellowship supports a research and training plan for the Fellow that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in biology. As the human population grows, so does the level of interaction between humans and wildlife. Stressors, such as noise, pollution, and habitat destruction, typically have negative consequences on the health and survival of wild animals. However, the ways these stressors cause detrimental effects is poorly understood. This project will test the effects of long-term stress exposure in marine mammals and discover the biochemical mechanisms. These results will help develop accurate methods to assess the health status of animals that experience environmental stressors. This project has a strong public outreach component, will broaden participation of underrepresented groups, and will provide mentorship and training by the fellow for undergraduate and graduate students. Through this project, the fellow will develop a lesson plan on wildlife conservation and research for implementation in grade schools in the local area. The fellow will also facilitate student participation in the field and laboratory through collaboration with UC Berkeley organizations focused on promoting inclusivity and student retention.

Environmental and ecological stressors increase the concentration of circulating glucocorticoids in affected animals, potentially altering their behavior, physiology, and fitness. However, the consequences of prolonged exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids remain elusive in many species, and particularly in marine mammals. Such a lack of knowledge hinders our ability to predict and assess health outcomes of increased exposure to environmental stressors and anthropogenic activities. This project will examine the impacts of glucocorticoid exposure on cellular and whole-body level responses in marine mammals by experimentally elevating glucocorticoids or blocking their action. The fellow will specifically examine the effects of short- and long-term glucocorticoid exposure on several health-relevant measures including reactive oxygen species generation, oxidative stress, inflammation, and immune function using a combination of primary cells in culture and whole animal studies with free-ranging elephant seals. The results of this project will help identify pathways responsible for health effects following short- or long-term exposure to stress. This will allow better prediction of negative consequences of increased environmental and anthropogenic stressors and identify potential biological indicators of stress in marine mammals and other at-risk species to facilitate their management.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Funding Source
United States Nat'l. Science Fndn.
Project source
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Project number
Sanitation and Quality Standards
Education and Training
Chemical Contaminants