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Ecotoxicological research at DIT

Author - Maria Davoren, Colm O’Dowd and Sharon Ní Shúilleabháin

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Current research at the RESC

At present, the focus of research has developed from tests with singular chemicals to assessing the potential toxicity of environmentally relevant complex mixtures of contaminants using in vitro test systems. Dr Maria Davoren and Sharon Ní Shúilleabháin are currently involved with the BIOMASSTOX project. The project aims to identify the potential toxicity of Irish estuarine sediments, as sediments are both a source and a sink for persistent contaminants in the aquatic environment. This research is timely, as monitoring and assessment of Irish transitional (estuarine) and coastal waters will be required in accordance with the EU Water Framework Directive (Directive 60/2000/EC) and the OSPAR convention (1992) from 2006.

The objective of the DIT. component of this project is to assess the cytotoxicity and ecotoxicity of surfical sediments (collected from the Ballymacoda and Douglas Estuaries, Co. Cork and from the Liffey Estuary at the East Wall in the Dublin Docklands), and a reference chemical (zinc chloride) using in vitro assays. These assays include establishing EC50 for continuous fish-cell lines and primary cultures, identifying and quantifying biomarkers of exposure in cell cultures and the employment of the Microtox® system (an assay using the luminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri which identifies toxicity based on a reduction in the light emitted by the bacteria when exposed to a toxicant). It is also anticipated that novel cultures developed in the VITOX project may be utilised in this research.

The aim of the VITOX project is to develop new in vitro-enabling technologies for screening sediments for potential toxicity. At present Colm O’Dowd, the newest member to join the environmental team, is investigating the possibility of developing primary-culture models from a number of aquatic species including the flounder (Platichthys flesus), the manila clam (Tapes semidecussatus), the common blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and juvenile larvae from the peppery furrow shell clam (Scrobicularia plana). Colm will subsequently concentrate his efforts on developing the most promising primary cultures to cell lines (outgrowth from the primary explant). Colm has also been focusing on the development of primers to identify and characterise consequent in vitro cultures using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods. He has had considerable success in the short time he has been working on this project.

Based on the collective results of these assays, it is envisaged that a ranking system for the risk assessment of estuarine sediments will be developed. In addition, it is hoped that comparisons between the results from in vivo experiments conducted in UCC and the in vitro data from DIT will yield significant correlations. To date a number of abstracts pertaining to this research have been presented at national and international conferences, which have been well received (see recent publications list). Maria and Sharon have also contributed to a chapter entitled ‘In vitro Ecotoxicological Assessment of Aquatic Sediments’ in a second book edited by Dr Mothersill and Professor Brian Austin currently in press (Ní Shúilleabháin, 2003).


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