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Oceans And Human Health: Gene-Environment Interactions In The Pacific Northwest


<p>The past two decades have seen a dramatic increase in economic repercussions and public health concerns associated with toxic blooms of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia. These organisms can produce domoic acid (DA), a powerful neurotoxin increasingly found in shellfish in ocean and estuary settings. Natural communities of Pseudo-nitzschia are poorly defined and environmental factors can simultaneously influence species composition and toxin production per cell, thus complicating attempts to predict bloom dynamics and impacts. In this study, a research team at the University of Washington will determine the relation between water column characteristics and Pseudo-nitzschia species distributions to determine the potential for human exposure. The study area, Puget Sound, is home to at least 8 species of Pseudo-nitzschia and 13 harvested shellfish that act as potential vectors of toxin to humans. Puget Sound is also home to diverse communities of people, including tribal nations and Asian and Pacific Islanders, who by consuming high quantities of seafood. Using transgenic animal models, the team will employ in vitro and in vivo assessment to identify key life-stages where greatest risks to humans from DA exposures can occur. The types of genetic parameters considered across the risk chain mirror one another regardless of organism: the genetics of toxin production in diatoms will be examined with gene and protein expression studies to identify potential biomarkers for toxin production. Broader Impacts: An important outcome of the project will be the training of a next generation of scientists (graduate student and postdoctoral researchers and undergraduates) adept at understanding and shaping the newly emerging field of 'oceans and human health' that examines links between ocean processes and human health and well-being. This unique trans-disciplinary program brings together researchers with expertise in oceanography, microbiology and environmental genomics to work with researchers with expertise in public health, risk assessment, toxicology and neurobehavior.</p>

Faustman, Elaine M; Armbrust, Virginia E
University of Washington
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