The extent to which humans and wildlife are exposed to toxicants is an important focus of environmental research. This work has been directed toward the development of molecular indicators diagnostic for exposure to various stressors in freshwater fish. Research includes the discovery of genes, indicative of environmental exposure, in the Agency's long-established aquatic toxicological organism, the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas). Novel cDNAs and coding sequences will be used in DNA microarray analyses for pattern identification of stressor-specific, differentially up- and down-regulated genes. The methods currently used to discover genes in this organism, for which few annotated nucleic acid sequences exist, are cDNA subtraction libraries, differential display, exploiting PCR primers for known genes of other members of the family Cyprinidae and use of degenerate PCR primers designed from regions of moderate protein homology. Single or multiple genes noted as being differentially expressed in microarray analyses will then be used in separate studies to measure bioavailable stressors in the laboratory and field. These analyses will be accomplished by quantitative RT-PCR. Moving from analysis of single gene exposures to the global state of the transcriptome offers possibilities that those genes identified by DNA microarray analyses might be critical components of dynamic biological systems and networks, wherein chemical stressors exert toxic effects through various modes of action. Additionally, the ability to discriminate bioavailability of stressors in complex environmental mixtures, and correlation with adverse effects downstream from these early molecular events, presents challenging new ground to be broken in the area of risk assessment.
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