Molluscs: We need to understand them, to protect them from pollution

Theme: Environmental Hazards & Pollution

Primary Supervisor:

Alice Baynes

Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel

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Secondary Supervisor:

Susan Jobling

Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel

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Project Description:

Pollution entering in the environment is a growing concern for ecosystem health. One important group of emerging pollutants are pharmaceuticals, which by their very design are potent modulators of biological mechanisms. Although molluscs have quite different physiology to vertebrates many drug targets are shared (although the physiological impacts in molluscs can be quite different). For example, anti-depressants target neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which are important neuromodulator in molluscs as well as mammals. Disruption to neurotransmitters in molluscs can impact feeding, locomotion, reproduction and predator avoidance. Similarly, in our lab we have very recently discovered that pharmaceuticals designed to disrupt hormone production in humans can disrupt shell development in an aquatic snail.

To protect the aquatic environment from damaging pollution we need a sound understanding of how substances affect a range of aquatic organisms. Freshwater snails have recently been introduced into chemical testing guidelines for reproductive toxicity. However, compared to other groups of animals (e.g. vertebrates, arthropods, etc.) much of mollusc fundamental biology is not well characterised. Without this underlying information, toxicologist and regulators cannot properly predict the impacts of pollutants could be having on molluscs in the wild. With the recent publication of mollusc genome(s) we now have powerful molecular tools to investigate mollusc biology.

This project aims to combine (eco)toxicology and comparative biology approaches to address these knowledge gaps, in order to understand mollusc development and reproduction and the possible effect of pollutants could be having on this large and diverse group of animals.

Policy Impact of Research:

Freshwater biodiversity is under threat via multiple stressors including agricultural and domestic pollution, freshwater mollusc species are declining globally. Research on the effects of pharmaceutical pollution on molluscs is in its infancy and a better understanding of the risks these chemicals pose is needed before regulatory action can be applied.

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