The laboratory’s research focuses on the interactions of metals and metalloids with marine organisms. This work is aimed at evaluating the bioavailability and fate of metals, including important long-lived radionuclides associated with nuclear wastes, in marine organisms. Our research examines various processes regulating the uptake and trophic transfer of these contaminants in marine food webs. Some of our work has explored the nature of binding of metals to diverse types of particles and the influence these have on the extent to which the metals are in a biologically available form. As a consequence, the effects of chemical and phase (particulate, dissolved, colloidal) partitioning of metals on their bioaccumulation in marine food webs is assessed. The influences of dissolved organic matter and numerous other environmental factors, including sediment geochemistry, on the bioavailability of metals are measured.
Radiotracer laboratory studies have assessed rate constants for metal uptake and release from living and abiotic particles under different environmental conditions, and the results are applied to understanding processes in specific environmental regions. Lab-derived kinetic constants are used to provide coefficients for bioaccumulation models. Emphasis has focused on metal accumulation in phytoplankton and zooplankton, polychaetes, bivalve mollusks and diverse marine fish.
Recent studies have particularly considered long-lived radionuclides released by the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan and their build-up in marine food chains (including migratory animals such as Pacific bluefin tuna). This work considers public health consequences as well as exploiting these unique markers as tracers of migration. We are also involved in assessing the bioconcentration of methylmercury in marine plankton and large predators (tuna, shark) and exploring its public health consequences for seafood consumers.
Studies have taken place in local waters as well as other US sites (e.g., San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Penobscot Bay) and areas more remote (Arctic and Antarctic waters, the Mediterranean, Japanese coastal waters).
Additionally, research is underway to relate bioaccumulation and toxicity of select metals to marine herbivores and to marine and freshwater phytoplankton. These studies emphasize physiological and biochemical responses to sublethal concentrations of metals.
Research opportunities exist for motivated students at all levels.
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