Aquatic Toxicology Research

Aquatic Toxicology

My applied research program encompasses the areas of environmental physiology, biochemical toxicology, and aquatic toxicology.  Our studies are integrative in nature and move from whole organismal to cellular and molecular responses, using a wide variety of techniques.  Much of our research is experimental, laboratory based studies but we also perform field based research using native or invasive species.  Our interest is in the study of aquatic vertebrates, primarily fish but also a strong interest in marine mammals.  Most recently, we have begun to use two aquatic invertebrates, hydra and the marine annelid Capitella tellata, for our toxicological studies.  In our fish studies, we use zebrafish and rainbow trout as our primary model species in the laboratory.  By nature, the research is comparative and integrative.

Impacts of Pharmaceuticals in the Aquatic Environment

Pharmaceuticals cause histological changes in zebrafish kidney

Much research has documented that human pharmaceuticals are present in our surface waters due to release with wastewater effluent.  The release of pharmaceuticals into the environment is a large concern because these compounds are designed with inherent biological activity and physiological pathways are highly conserved across vertebrates.  Thus, we expect that pharmaceuticals will have biological activity in aquatic vertebrates such as fish.  Our research has focused on four major pharmaceuticals consistently found in wastewater effluent and surface waters: acetaminophen (common analgesic), carbamazepine (anti-epileptic and mood stabilizer), gemfibrozil (lipid regulator), and venlafaxine (anti-depressant).  Using environmentally relevant concentrations and chronic exposures, we have exposed zebrafish to single pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical mixtures and diluted wastewater effluent to assess reproductive, developmental, histological, transcriptomic and multi-generational impacts.  We are exploring whether the effects of exposure to these compounds are through their mechanism of action in humans. We use rainbow trout to determine the physiological implications of pharmaceutical exposure in fish.  We are currently developing the use of hydra to study the effects of pharmaceuticals on aquatic species.  This research uses a wide array of techniques from basic histology and enzyme immunoassays, to microarray and microinjection approaches.

Zebrafish sperm.  We are examining sperm morphology and swimming speed as relevant endpoints for male offspring after parental exposure to pharmaceuticals.

Endocrine Disrupters in Hamilton Harbour and the Great Lakes Region

Intersex Male; ovo-testis with both sperm (SZ) and different stages of oocytes (PN and VG)

Round goby are a benthic, territorial invasive species in the Great Lakes Basin. We are using gobies to study endocrine disrupters in Hamilton Harbour because they are one two species in Hamilton Harbour and Cootes Paradise with intersex, the presence of both egg and sperm in male testes. Our research has focused on understanding feminization (intersex or ovo-testis; feminized urogenital papilla, expression of egg related genes in males) of round gobies at sites with historical industrial pollutants, combined sewer overflow, and wastewater effluent discharge.  The complicated discharge at many of these sites makes it difficult to discern if the feminization of fish is related to steroids or other pharmaceuticals in the environment, as originally proposed, or due to historical PAH type contaminants. Round goby are ideal for this research because they do not have a wide range and thus its contaminant exposure will reflect local pollution.  We have developed a quantitative PCR method for monitoring vitellogenin gene expression in male gobies.  Vitellogenin, an egg yolk precursor protein, should not be expressed in males unless they have been exposed to a natural or xeno-estrogen. We hope to identify sites polluted with endocrine disrupters within Hamilton Harbour and the Great Lakes Region and determine what contaminants are causing the endocrine disruption.

Thermal and Multiple Stressor Effects on Whitefish

Developing Lake Whitefish Embryos

Lake and round whitefish are cold water adapted fish which spawn in late fall.  Embryos develop overwinter at low temperatures. We  study the effects of temperature alone, and in combination with other stressors, on developing whitefish.  This work is important to understand the impacts of once through cooling, a common process used in many industrial processes including power plants.  This research is also important for understanding effluent impacts on Canadian receiving waters because many effluent discharges are warmer than ambient water.  We are examining both the direct effects on development, including morphology, survival, and hatching, as well as the longer term implications of embryonic exposures for juvenile fish. Our research will help us to understand the impacts of temperature on the development of an important native fish in the Great Lakes region.

Want to see a great video explaining our whitefish project?  Caitlin, an undergraduate in the lab in 2016-2017 academic year, won best video in the iClimate Video Competition.  Check out her video here!

This research has been funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Strategic Project and Collaborative Research and Development Programs, the Canadian Water Network (CWN), Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation Early Researcher Award program, and industrial partners.

Recent Posts

Bring on the summer!

With each academic term change, there can be a change in who is doing research in the Wilson Tox Lab.  But summer and fall term mark times of large change, as undergraduates  and graduate students complete their thesis research, write up, and move on to new challenges.  This year it is a bit of an exception as many of the undergraduates that have been working in our lab over the last year are staying to continue their research.  Kirill Pankov, an undergraduate student that works between Dr. Andrew McArthur’s lab and Wilson Tox Lab, had a very successful thesis.  He won the best thesis presentation for the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization Program (BDC); no mean feat considering he was discussing his research in Cnidarian genomes!  Kirill is continuing to work on that project over the summer with the hopes that we are wrapping up a project spanning multiple Cnidarian genomes and will be able to move into nomenclature of the cytochrome P450 genes in this important animal phylum.  Caitlin West and Devon Jones completed their undergraduate theses in the Biology, Physiology Specialization Program and are remaining in the lab to contribute to our whitefish program (Caitlin) and mouse fetal programming project (Devon).  Devon won best poster presentation for the Biology Department’s senior thesis class.  Caitlin has just won the best video in the iClimate video competition, showcasing excellent science communication skills.  Check out her video on the iClimate Facebook page; a link is provided on our research pages.  These are just three of the seven undergraduates working in the lab this summer.

We do have a few new people that have joined the lab in 2017.  Meghan Fuzzen joined us in January to begin a post doctoral fellowship after completing her PhD at Waterloo.  She was actually out in the field with us in late fall for whitefish spawning, working ahead of her PDF to get experiments going.  Hard core scientist in our midst and we are so glad to have her!  Allison Kennedy is another post doctoral fellow that has joined the group more recently.  Allison has been working at NOSM with our collaborator, Dr. Doug Boreham, and has moved to McMaster to work on our Mouse Fetal Programming project as part of our ongoing collaboration with the Boreham lab.  We also have two new PhD students in our midst this summer.  Andrea Murillo has moved from the University of Regina and Dr. Richard Manzon’s lab to complete her PhD with us.  We have gotten to know Andrea over the last two years of her MSc degree, where she worked on heat shock proteins in developing whitefish.  We were lucky enough to have her in the field with us each fall for the last few years, collecting spawning whitefish to perform IVF and generate embryos for our research program.  Andrea’s research is going to move us into more invertebrate species and allow us to continue our research on cytochrome P450 enzymes in the marine annelid worm, Capitella telata.  James McEvoy will be joining us shortly from Australia, where he is completing a PhD at Flinders University.  He is our first Cotutelle student and will get his degree from both Flinders and McMaster!

And of course, we are starting to look forward to fall and the next major change in the lab.  Three graduate students are wrapping up their research; both Adam and Shayen will be finishing their MSc degrees by fall term and Shamaila is finishing the last bit of her PhD research this summer.  So between research and writing manuscripts, this is shaping up to be one exciting summer in the Wilson Tox Lab.

  1. Meet Devon Jones, undergraduate researcher Leave a reply
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