WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers have harnessed the sensitivity of days-old fish embryos to create a tool capable of detecting a range of harmful chemicals.
By measuring rates of oxygen use in developing fish, which are sensitive to contaminants and stressful conditions, the technology could reveal the presence of minute levels of toxic substances before they cause more obvious and substantial harm. It could be used as an early warning system against environmental contamination or even biological weapons, said Purdue University researcher Marshall Porterfield, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering.
Respiration, the process wherein animals and other organisms burn oxygen to produce energy, is often the first of a fish's bodily functions affected by contaminants. The technology uses fiber optics to quickly monitor this activity and produce results within minutes, Porterfield said.
"Say you are exposed to the common cold virus," he said. "Before symptoms develop and you become aware of the bug's presence, it has already begun to attack your cells. Similarly, fish and other organisms are affected by contaminants before behavioral changes appear. Our technology detects heretofore undetectable changes to act as an early warning system."
In a study published online last week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the system detected the presence of several common pollutants such as the widely-used herbicide atrazine - even at levels near or below those that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable for drinking water.
"This means the technology could not only help monitor environmental quality but may be used to enforce important water quality standards," said Marisol Sepulveda, lead author and assistant professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue.
Testing also registered noticeable changes in the respiratory activity of fish embry
|Contact: Douglas M. Main|