Published on September 19, 2017

To obtain a better understanding of the biological responses to unpredictable environmental change, the early transcriptional response of the keystone species Daphnia magna to twelve environmental perturbations was characterised. We discovered that approximately one-third of the Daphnia genes, enriched for metabolism, cell signalling and general stress response, drives transcriptional early response to environmental stress and it is shared among genetic backgrounds. 

Published on June 14, 2017

To assess the consequences of ongoing biodiversity changes, hundreds of biodiversity experiments have been carried out since the 1990s. However, changes in ecosystem functioning between systems can not only result from differences in the number of species, but also from differences in what species are present (i.e. species identities). Additive partitioning methods are therefore generally used in biodiversity research. These factor out species identify effects by comparing the observed level of ecosystem functioning against that predicted by the null model for the given species composition of the system. These species’ deviations from the null can be partitioned between several terms reflecting the various mechanisms through which biodiversity can affect ecosystem functioning. Current partitioning methods, however, quantify biodiversity effects based on linear relationships between species functional traits and their deviations from the null model. In this paper, we demonstrate that non-linear relationships frequently occur, and derived a non-linear extension of additive partitioning methods to quantify these more complex biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning.

Published on May 16, 2017
Toxicity of metals like zinc (Zn) to freshwater organisms is not only dependent on the concentration of the metals itself, but also on other properties of the water, like its hardness and its acidity (pH). This is called bioavailability. In the European Union, safe levels of Zn can be calculated as a function of these properties, using so-called bioavailability models. Previously, the existing models could not be applied to more than 25% of European waters, because hardness or pH were higher than those for which the models were originally developed. In this research, we have shown with new experimental work that the existing model for algae can also be used at a much wider range of hardness and pH than previously thought. Our work with water fleas, however, showed that the existing model needed to be considerably improved.

Published on May 9, 2017

This week, 10 GhEnToxLab members will be presenting their research at the 27th SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium from 07-11 May 2017. There we will highlight our research in a total of 5 platforms, 5 posters and 1 poster corner. To keep track of us during the conference, a comprehensive list of our activities is provided below. Not only do we present a lot of our work, many GhEnToxLab members are part of the local organising committee and professor De Schamphelaere is the chair of the scientific committee of the conference.

Published on April 3, 2017
Metal contamination of rivers and streams generally occurs as a combination of multiple metals (so called mixtures). However, it is yet unresolved how risks of mixed metal contamination to ecosystems should be evaluated. We collated data from 30 different toxicity tests with metal mixtures and analysed them in a systematic way to derive general conclusions that can be used in risk assessment. We found  cases in which different metals, each individually causing <10% toxicity (relative to uncontaminated water), caused much larger toxicity (up to 66%) when combined. This suggests that the current metal-by-metal approach in risk assessment may not be conservative enough for the environment. We also considered the use of two common mixture toxicity models to predict metal mixture toxicity.

Published on March 30, 2017
Copepods play a fundamental role in the food chain of our oceans as they feed on algae and get eaten by fish. Amongst others, the harpacticoid copepod species Nitocra spinipes has become a popular model species in aquatic toxicity testing over the past few decades. To understand the combined effects of chemical pollution and climate change-related stressors on copepod populations, a proper quantification of those processes is essential. In this study, GhEnToxLab researcher Josef Koch and his Swedish coauthors (Stockholm University) quantified the effects of temperature and food shortage as two climate change-related environmental stressors on Nitocra spinipes and implemented the corresponding stress functions into an individual-based population model for this species.

Published on February 10, 2017

Fleece clothing made its way to our wardrobe in the 90s. Since then wearing fleece has been appreciated to be easy, warm and comfortable. Fleece is however made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material as plastic bottles. Despite its green image, since plastic bottles are sometimes recycled to fleece clothing, wearing fleece is not that eco-friendly as you would expect. The Standard and Knack interviewed Prof. Janssen to explain the issue of microplastic pollution originating from fleece clothing and its ecological consequences.

Published on February 9, 2017

Darwin’s rules of “evolution” and “survival of the fittest” also apply to populations of organisms exposed to chemical substances. Our review of the scientific literature revealed that long-term exposure to two classes of persistent pollutants, PAH’s and PCB’s, can affect the evolutionary trajectory of natural populations and make them more resistant to these chemicals. In some cases, this has happened at pollutant levels below currently applicable environmental quality standards. This calls for integrating evolutionary processes into regulatory decision-making.

Published on January 27, 2017

Over the last decade, it has become clear that epigenetic mechanisms could play a role in the toxicity of environmental toxicants. Epigenetic mechanisms are mechanisms that alter the DNA strands without changing the DNA itself.In this study, we focus on the DNA methylation patterns in the waterflea exposed to a toxic blue green algae.  We studied the methylation patterns in exposed and unexposed animals and found significant differences between the two treatments. Overall, this study suggests that DNA methylation plays an important role in the toxicity response.

Published on January 25, 2017

The British television and radio platform Sky has made a documentary – A plastic tide – on plastic pollution in the oceans. Our laboratory has a great expertise in microplastic pollution in the marine environment and performed the first comprehensive risk assessment on these tiny plastic fragments. In this picture, journalists of SkyNews visited our lab and talked to Prof. Janssen and Niels De Troyer to get the full story concerning the human exposure and effects of microplastics in seafood. In addition, the newspaper the Telegraph wrote an article about (micro)plastic pollution and refers to the conversation skynews had with Prof. Janssen.