Four innovations that aim to improve the environment

April 22, 2018

The Experimental Biology 2018 meeting (EB 2018) will showcase exciting new research aimed at understanding contamination and improving the environment.

Assessing harmful environmental exposures in wildlife

Biomarkers offer a way to detect whether an organism has been exposed to harmful environmental contaminants and to measure how that exposure may be affecting the organism's health. Although many biomarkers of contaminant exposure and effect have been identified in people, it has been difficult to develop these biomarkers for wildlife because traditional methods require tissue or blood samples from the organism. Researchers from Griffith University in Australia are working to overcome this problem by optimizing biomarker discovery methods that use cultured cells from wildlife. They demonstrated the new method by culturing skin cells from a green sea turtle and exposing the cells to polycholorinated biphenyl (PCB) and perfluorononanoic acid, contaminants that commonly accumulate in sea turtles. Mass spectrometry analysis of the cells revealed many proteins that changed expression levels after exposure, including a previously identified biomarker for PCB exposure in sea turtles. By using cultured cells, the new method could offer a faster way to develop and confirm biomarkers of both exposure and effect without invasive sampling.

Stephanie Chaousis will present this research at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) annual meeting from 1:30-2:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in Exhibit Halls A-D (poster B295 802.7) (abstract).

A more sustainable way to make biodiesel

Scientists continue to search for more environmentally friendly ways to convert low-cost cooking oil and grease waste into biodiesel. Although using the enzyme lipase to speed up the conversion process is a promising approach, the enzyme's activity levels are not high enough for industrial-scale biodiesel production. Researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, examined whether nanoparticle-based formulations could boost lipase activity levels. Using lipase from the fungus Candida rugosa, they developed lipase nanoparticles, cross-linked lipase nanoparticles and lipase nanoparticles immobilized on iron oxide nanoparticles. All three nanoparticle formulations exhibited faster biodiesel production with more operational stability than traditional lipase formulations. They also demonstrated that using the right solvent increased activity even more. For example, enzyme activity increased 54-fold when the solvent 1,4 dioxane was used with lipase nanoparticles immobilized on iron oxide nanoparticles.

Héctor Rivera will present this research at the ASBMB annual meeting from 12:45-1 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in Exhibit Halls A-D (poster B256) (abstract).

Harmful bacteria found on ocean plastic

The ever-increasing volume of plastic debris entering coastal waters and oceans negatively affects water quality, wildlife and the environment. To better understand these effects, researchers from National University and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California are studying microbes that attach to plastic in coastal areas. After submerging three common types of plastic in Southern California coastal waters, they used DNA sequencing to identify microbes on the plastic at four time points between 3 and 40 days. They found that over 40 percent of the DNA sequences were from organisms that had not yet been identified. The three plastics each harbored different types bacteria, which also differed from the bacteria found in the surrounding water. Importantly, plastic retrieved at the early timepoints showed evidence of bacteria that could lead to human disease. The findings indicate a potential new route for plastic ocean debris to affect human health and the environment.

Ana Maria Barral will present this research at the ASBMB annual meeting from 1:30-2:15 p.m. Sunday, April 22, in Exhibit Halls A-D (poster B349 534.5) (abstract).

Prenatal effects of low-level marine toxin exposure

Domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin produced by certain marine algae, can cause fatal central nervous system toxicity in people who consume highly-contaminated shellfish. Although government guidelines limit exposure to a tolerable daily intake of 0.075 milligrams per kilogram to reduce risks of toxicity from short-term exposure, effects of long-term low levels of exposure are not known. In a study of 20 pregnant monkeys, researchers from the University of Washington found that mother and fetus experienced similar exposure to domoic acid when the mothers received 0.075 or 0.15 milligrams per kilogram domoic acid daily for at least two months before pregnancy and for the length of pregnancy. The study also revealed that amniotic fluid may contribute to continuous domoic acid exposure in the womb. Some exposed monkeys showed subtle signs of neurological effects, such as tremors. Based on these new findings, the researchers suggest that the tolerable daily intake for domoic acid may need to be lowered to reduce human health risks associated with long-term, low-level exposure.

Sara Shum will present this research at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in Exhibit Halls A-D (poster C167) (abstract).

EB 2018 is the premier annual meeting of five scientific societies to be held April 21-25 at the San Diego Convention Center. Contact the media team for abstracts, images and interviews, or to obtain a free press pass to attend the meeting.
About Experimental Biology 2018

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from five host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the U.S. and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. #expbio

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