Wildlife and landscape science research topics: toxicogenomics

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Chicken embryonic neuronal cell used in molecular toxicology experiments to determine impacts of priority chemicals on gene expression in the avian brain | Photo: Environment Canada
Toxicogenomics is the study of gene and protein expression changes in living organisms following exposure to toxic substances and involves the use of state-of-the-art approaches including DNA microarrays, high throughput nuclear magnetic resonance ( ) and protein expression analysis.

Environment Canada scientists actively work in this emerging field to develop new tools to better assess toxicity pathways in wildlife and ecosystems. The ultimate goal is to identify predictive indicators of effects that are of use to regulators and risk assessors that can lead to early prediction and preventative strategies to protect wildlife and the environment from harmful contaminants.

Toxicogenomics will help researchers determine which species are vulnerable, and in what ways, to toxic substances based on their unique genetic make-up. Identifying this susceptibility will allow Environment Canada to prioritize species for conservation planning, and develop appropriate conservation activities. As well, regulators will use this information to identify the effects of priority contaminants of concern, including emerging contaminants, and restrict their use.

A major advantage of toxicogenomics is that it can help determine molecular mechanisms underlying species differences in response to contaminant exposure. Researchers identify toxicity pathways or modes of action and can make predictions regarding the toxicity of a substance as well as identify new pathways that would have previously been unforeseen. These techniques reduce scientific uncertainty, giving regulators greater confidence in the effects of the substance.

Image of scientist testing blood samples | Photo: Glenn Barrett, Environment Canada

Environment Canada scientists develop standardized methods to obtain, validate and store data. As researchers develop a better understanding of an organism’s susceptibility to substances, they will be able to customize tests to yield faster and less costly results.

Researchers at Environment Canada are currently using toxicogenomic-based approaches to determine the effects of priority environmental contaminants, such as brominated flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl compounds, on the expression of genes in hepatocyte, cardiomyocyte and neuronal cell cultures of wild and domestic avian species.

In their research, Environment Canada scientists utilize various toxicogenomic techniques including:

  • quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) analysis
  • DNA microarrays
  • Ingenuity Pathway Analysis
  • differential display PCR
  • in vitro (cell culture) and in ovo (egg injection) chemical exposures

Although Environment Canada’s research in the field of toxicogenomics is in the early stages of development, it holds great promise to identify and protect vulnerable species and prevent environmental degradation.

Experts in toxicogenomics

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