Water fleas, or Daphnia, could provide an important ‘early warning system’ for chemical pollution in our lakes and rivers. In addition, where prevention to pollute has failed, Daphnia could work as a bioremediation agent to help reduce hazards.
Researchers, led by the University of Birmingham, have devised a new framework using high throughput ‘omics’ technologies to detect the effects of ambient chemical mixtures—of the type and concentration typically found in the environment—on the biology of living organisms. The approach uses Daphnia to understand what chemicals can be toxic to other species and how. This is possible because all animals, including humans, share genes that underpin their responses to environmental changes including exposure to pollution.
While Daphnia have long been recognized as a “sentinel species,” used to identify and set exposure limits on toxic chemicals by regulation, the newly published framework significantly expands and refines their role. It enables Daphnia to detect bioactive components within ambient chemical mixtures and predict what chemicals are likely to be harmful. Using the knowledge that all animals evolve from a common ancestor, the team quantifies toxicity in Daphnia and predicts its impact in other species. In this framework, Daphnia works as a canary in a coal mine, providing an early warning system of toxicity.
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