Aquatic Health Research Themes

Within the Department of Aquatic Health Sciences, six major research themes can be identified:

Environmental Chemistry. R. Hale, M. NewmanJ. SmithM. Unger

Departmental research includes elucidating sources, transport, fate, bioavailability and impacts of synthetic and natural contaminants in coastal watersheds.  Recent efforts have focused on characterizing the behavior of antifoulants and microplastics in marine and estuarine systems, investigating links between anthropogenic nutrient pollution and environmental health, identifying the sources of emerging contaminants, isolating and characterizing novel algal toxins, and applying geographic information systems (GIS) for modeling spatial distributions of environmental data. Aquatic Health faculty, staff, and students collaborate with international researchers, federal and state agencies (e.g., EPA, NOAA, DOE, and VA Dept. of Environmental Quality VA Dept. of Health) and private industry, allowing our research to have real-world applications in environmental and public health.  Recent student research has examined the binding of pesticides to natural organic matter and subsequent impact on bioavailability and toxicity; bioremediation of tributyltin-contaminated sediment in a created wetland; factors influencing the degradation rate of crop protectants in natural waters; the development of rapid and deployable immunology-based contaminant detection systems; the fate of brominated flame retardants in birds of prey and the fate of biosolid constituents in ecosystems; and the utility of stable isotope chemistry in determining the source of nutrients, natural or anthropogenic, driving algal toxin production and growth of harmful algal blooms. [top]

Environmental Microbiology. K. Reece, A. Wargo

This program focuses on studies of pathogenic microorganisms in environmental waters. A particular strength is multidisciplinary research on microorganisms that pose a significant threat to human and aquatic animal health, the aquaculture industry, commercial fisheries, tourism and recreational water use. Research includes studies aimed at understanding environmental influences on pathogenic microbes, genetic characterization and evolution of strains, and development and validation of new methods for detection of pathogens. [top]

Toxicology. M. NewmanK. Reece, J. Smith

Effects of toxic chemicals are measured from organismal to ecosystem levels. Research focuses on examining:  1) uptake and elimination of toxicants by individual organisms, 2) the impact of toxicants on vital processes (mortality, growth, reproduction), and 3) mechanisms of internal distribution, biotransformation, and clearance of xenobiotic and natural products. Organismal responses are being evaluated as a basis for predicting population effects at sublethal concentrations. [top]

Diseases of Marine Animals. R. Carnegie, K. ReeceJ. Shields, W. Vogelbein, A. Wargo

Members of the department have significant expertise in this field ranging from virology, protistology and parasitology, to disease ecology and the evolutionary consequences of disease. Research in this field 1) focuses on infectious and noninfectious diseases of fish and shellfish, 2) determines the mechanism(s) by which pathogens cause disease in the host organisms, 3) examines pathological consequences of exposures of estuarine animals to contaminants, 4) studies etiology and epidemiology of pathogens in estuarine and marine organisms, 5) investigates host defense mechanisms in order to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for use in aquaculture, and 6) seeks to understand the impact of toxic materials on disease processes. The pathobiology group uses modern histological, microbiological, immunological, and molecular techniques to study diseases in shellfish and fish. The department has developed a curriculum to train students in modern laboratory and field techniques to study diseases in marine organisms. [top]

Molecular Genetics. R. Carnegie, K. Reece, A. Wargo

Studies focus on genomic analyses of marine and estuarine animals and pathogenic organisms. Environmental water quality studies involve molecular detection, identification and examination of the effects of environmental parameters on harmful algal bloom (HAB) organisms and human pathogens. Phylogenetic, population genetic, and genomic research targets shellfish, finfish, as well as parasites and aquatic pathogens. [top]

Environmental Risk Assessment. M. Newman

Risk assessment tools are applied to evaluate the risk associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals, pathogens, bacterial agents, both individually and collectively in complex mixtures. The goal is to provide a conceptual framework that will improve environmental management by allowing resource agencies to focus their limited resources on those issues of greatest importance. [top]