When a person goes to an emergency room with chest pains, doctors test for elevated blood protein levels that are diagnostic of a heart attack or other cardiac injury. "Now that we understand how PAHs affect heart cells, we can work toward identifying new biomarkers that can be similarly diagnostic in fish from polluted habitats," said Nat Scholz.
This will lead to new tools for assessing the impact of pollution on natural resources. For instance, scientists might assess the baseline level of those biomarkers, then test for them again if an oil spill occurs to measure the impact on fish. Such a technique might be particularly useful in the Arctic, where retreating ice cover is opening new areas to oil development. Because the ecosystem there is still relatively pristine, now is the ideal time to collect baseline measures of ecosystem function, before oil development takes place.
PAHs are also present in urban stormwater runoff to coastal areas and watersheds that fish use as spawning grounds. Many municipalities are working to improve water quality using pervious pavements, green roofs, and other surfaces that absorb stormwater. With new diagnostic techniques based on biomarkers, scientists will be better able to evaluate the effectiveness of these pollution control measures.
Understanding the role that PAHs play in disrupting cardiac function in fish will open many new avenues for environmental research and assessment. "What made this breakthrough possible," said John Incardona, "was the serendipitous teaming up of two groups with complementary expertise." Once again, collaboration is the key to scientific progress.
|Contact: Rich Press|
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service