Chemical toxicology and marine ecosystem health
Human ability to utilise the planet’s resources and to synthesise new chemical products has brought progress while resulting in massive release of noxious chemicals into the environment. The marine environment is the final sink of all released chemicals. To explore the effects of such discharges, the Plentzia Marine Station of the University of the Basque Country (EMBRC Spain) offers three interconnected services for One Health research: an environmental monitoring network, an environmental specimen bank for retrospective (eco)toxicological studies, and an experimental toxicological research aquaria unit.
Environmental pollution monitoring network
The metropolitan area of Bilbao developed its heavy industry mainly linked to iron mining, iron-ore transport, steel production and shipbuilding at the time of the industrial revolution in the UK more than 100 years ago. Consequently, the short estuaries of the Basque coast in the Bay of Biscay, and the associated littoral, have suffered a long history of pollution. A steady recovery process is now underway thanks to the important sewage treatment works initiated in the 1990s.
Our environmental monitoring network is composed of a series of estuarine and coastal sampling sites associated with discharges from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), and urban, industrial and harbour areas that are sampled periodically. Hot spots of pollution are localised in the areas surrounding PiE-UPV/EHU, which is located on the beach of Plentzia associated with the clean Butroe estuary. In-house researchers and technical staff have long contrasted experience in pollution monitoring of chronic and acute pollution. For this purpose, they mainly use the mussel-watch approach, advanced analytical chemistry, and early warning cell and molecular biomarkers in pollution sentinel species (molluscs, polychaetes, fish, etc.). This periodical monitoring network is made available to visiting researchers. Imperfect past, present continuous and future perfect are put in your hands!
Biscay Bay Environmental Biospecimen Bank
The Biscay Bay Environmental Biospecimen Bank-BBEBB is part of the International Environmental Specimen Bank Group-IESB which promotes the world-wide development of techniques and strategies of environmental specimen banking. The BBEBB contains frozen, dry and histological samples, and high-resolution scanned microscopy slide images from: 1) different monitoring campaigns mainly in the Southern Bay of Biscay (some since the 1980s) and 2) samples of model organisms experimentally exposed in-house to diverse chemicals. In general, the BBEBB contains tissues of fish, stranded marine mammals, and molluscs.
Storage of such samples allows retrospective analysis of environmental health through the application of biomarker, biometry and analytical chemistry techniques for the analysis of the responsiveness of living organisms to chemical insults.
All samples can be searched through the PiE-UPV/EHU webpage in the following database. Prospective users could apply for BBEBB samples accessed remotely or on-site. Research on biobanking and sample processing and storing techniques is also welcome.
Experimental aquaria for toxicity testing and study of toxic mechanisms of action
Experimental aquaria are essential facilities at PiE-UPV/EHU where a wide range of chemical exposure experiments can be performed using marine algae, invertebrates (pelagic, benthic filter feeders, sediment dwellers) and vertebrates as test organisms. All experiments are carried out under the highest quality standards and fulfilling all ethics and animal healthcare standards in experimentation regulations.
Experimental aquaria features
Naturally filtered, good quality sea water (water supply up to 300,000 L/day) for the experimental aquaria is obtained from two wells deep in the sandy banks of the Bay of Plentzia. Experimental aquaria are built in the form of modular facilities that allow ad-hoc designs for any experimental set-up in toxicological experimentation either with organic or inorganic chemicals. Features of the experimental aquaria and tanks they hold:
- Metal free
- Independent regulation of photoperiod and temperature (14-22ºC) with a titanium plate interchanger. Experimental set-ups at lower temperatures are feasible.
- Flow-through and closed systems
- Data logger for continuous recording of physicochemicals
- Equipped with their own depuration plant organised in three depurations lines (organic material, hydrocarbons, metals) allowing experimenting with a range of contaminants without harming the local depuration plant
- Experimentation tanks with volumes from 1 to 1000 litters and with two outdoor mesocosms of 20000 litters each
- Specific filtration units for specific experiments if required