Designing chemicals and drugs that are better for the environment and human health

Published on: 26 April 2016

Studying engineered transgenic zebrafish highlights how certain commonly used chemicals affect not only the environment but also impact on human health.

Charles Tyler, a Professor of Environmental Biology in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences and his team have engineered zebrafish tissues to respond to certain chemicals by emitting a particular colour if that chemical is present. By observing and analysing this colour as it affects tissues within the zebrafish, it is possible to determine where in the body these chemicals are affecting.

This NERC-funded research allows Professor Tyler and his team to study with great detail the effects of common chemicals and drugs inside the body. For example, as the fish are exposed to higher concentrations of ethinyl estradiol, used frequently in the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy treatments, the zebrafish colour model shows an increased number of tissues responding to that oestrogen.

Other research has used the zebrafish models to establish that oestrogens present in the environment can cause feminising effects on wildlife and in humans. By analysing the brain of the zebrafish it is possible to see where multiple chemicals interact within the brain.

Professor Tyler said: “These transgenic zebrafish are part of a broader programme of work that we’re doing, including linking with chemical companies and with pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca to better advance the use of models such as the zebrafish for informing on wider health effects including those in relation to humans as well. That now, and in the future is going to help us reduce the number of mammals we use for example in research and in terms of animal testing”

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