Scientists know that industrial contaminants pose a danger to aquatic life; what they do not yet know is whether other additives that are often present in waterways help or hinder this problem. Here at IBES, former graduate affiliate April Rodd is using a test case of two materials—carbon nanoparticles and benzo(a)pyrene—to explore the effects of such chemical mixtures on fish.
Rodd, who earned her PhD in early 2017, employs a new form of technology called three-dimensional cell culture to study fish liver cells. In this process, scientists modify the more classic, single-layer culture and turn it into something more closely resembling the cells of a living organism.
“Instead of having a flat, single layer of cells, you force it to assemble into a ball of tissue instead,” she explains.
Rodd and her colleagues are familiar with the toxic effect of benzo(a)pyrene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) commonly found in oil spills, on cultured fish cells alone—but the combined effect of this chemical along with other, emerging compounds, such as carbon nanoparticles, is unclear.
“I'm hoping to get some basic answers on that, as well as to get into this idea of what makes a nanoparticle toxic,” she says. “Is it shape? Is it functionalization? What is it about a particle that makes it have a protective effect—where there is reduced toxicity associated with the particle—or a synergistic effect—where perhaps it enhances uptake?”
Rodd hopes that her work will inspire other researchers to begin examining the links between the various chemical compounds that threaten aquatic ecosystems.
“Even if we stopped using petroleum products today, we still have lots of leaching sources of PAHs in things already in our environment,” she says. “This work is a case study for the interaction between a new and emerging contaminant, carbon nanomaterials, and something that already exists in our waterways waiting to interact with it. And that's really important.”