We are embarking on an ambitious program in cooperation with Dr. John Colbourne of the University of Birmingham. The success of this program will mean a revolution in the way we test for and evaluate the health of our freshwater lakes. This will be a multi-year journey for us, and we are hoping to have as many Friends accompany us as possible.
We are currently seeking support for this leading edge research which will be of increasing value to Muskoka’s freshwater lakes and rivers, as well as Muskoka’s residents, seasonal and year-round. If the opportunity to be a part of this program interests you, please consider supporting Friends of the Muskoka Watershed through one of our Patron programs as well as becoming a Friend.
Donations to our Environment Care program are gratefully accepted and will help enhance the long-term health and vibrancy of the Muskoka River Watershed and its 1600+ lakes.
The science behind Environment Care
Our overall aim is to understand the fundamental mechanisms and processes resulting in molecular biodiversity, its links to animal fitness, and its utility in environmental management.
The Specific Objectives
- Molecular Diversity Revealed: We will measure the transcriptome and metabolome of Daphnia to uncover the molecular pathways that respond to contemporary inland waters.
- Toxicity Across the Hierarchy: We will identify molecular signatures of toxicity that are predictive of an adverse outcome on animal fitness.
- Origins of Molecular Diversity: We will determine if a principle source of molecular diversity is the duplication of genes and pathways, potentially providing the molecular underpinning for complex adaptive systems.
- Interpreting Mixture Toxicity using Omics: We will associate the molecular pathways with the chemical complexity of the water, and identify critical features of the water that have adverse effects.
- Testing the Waters: We will develop and provide a first use of molecular compliance, early warning and diagnostic indicators and associated targets for better water management.
Our journey begins with tiny inhabitants of our lakes, water fleas called Daphnia, our sentinels of these freshwater ecosystems. Water fleas have fascinating ways of coping with environmental change and hardship. This includes adapting to the many tens of thousands of human made chemicals that are poisoning our waters. It turns out that the ways these fleas cope offer us the prospect of vital insight that far exceeds the timeliness of our current capabilities.
Scientists are discovering how the application of “big data” and leading-edge technologies can make these animals into miniature detectives of the quality of our environment. By combining studies on Daphnia with toxicological and evolutionary studies using other useful species in biomedical research, we will soon be able to accurately understand, in a much more immediate way, how chemicals adversely impact normal biological processes in most animals, including humans.
This research will contribute to solving two existing challenges which inhibit our capacity to effectively assess environmental risk – comprehensiveness and timeliness – and will allow us to make better science-based decisions on how to best manage potential chemical health risks.
Currently, our methods limit us to testing only a few chemicals at a time. This testing, inadequate in scope as it is, takes years to complete and often results in our awareness of risk coming too late to solve or mitigate the issue.
Our new approach will be much more useful and much more immediate for the risk assessment of chemicals, a fact that has drawn the attention and interest of the pharmaceutical industry, for example.
As an additional bonus outcome of this research, we will be provided with fantastic new tools for water quality assessment, catapulting us way beyond our present methods, methods which now limit us to measuring a few water quality parameters, hoping we have included the correct problematic chemicals in our analysis.
Using Daphnia as our sentinel, we will expose them to the waters of our target lakes and then measure the thousands of resulting metabolites in their blood. The responses of these sentinel fleas will tell us much more about environmental threats, far beyond the current methods.
Yes, thousands of metabolites in a few microliters of Daphnia blood. Using big data and other advanced processing technologies enables us to achieve such extensive and accurate analysis.
The potential is astounding.