Derivation of the molecular basis of endocrine disruption in aquatic invertebrates
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have attracted worldwide media attention due to their feminisation effects on aquatic organisms. Studies on the environmental effects of these compounds have become increasingly important due to fears of increased infertility and their influence on the dynamics of an ecological niche. The benthic invertebrate <italic>Gammarus pulex</italic> has been selected as a sentinel species for studying the effects of these pollutants on the amphipod endocrine system, and subsequently on reproduction. The aims of this project were to gain a greater understanding of the endocrine system of <italic>Gammarus pulex</italic> at the molecular level and to identify how pollutants may effect gene expression in intersex and normal <italic> Echinogammarus marinus.</italic> Two proteins found in this freshwater shrimp have been identified as possible molecular indices of endocrine disruption, the female specific yolk protein, vitellogenin, and the exoskeletal cuticle protein. Cuticle protein is the first molecular tool to deterrnine moult stage in <italic>G. pulex,</italic> which has previously relied on morphological microscopy. Rapid moult staging of cDNA, and subsequent analysis of gene expression at the different moult stages, are critical steps towards understanding normal and disrupted endocrine regulation and control. Increased vitellogenin levels in female <italic>G. pulex</italic> have confirmed its effectiveness as a sex-specific marker. The experimental processes and results presented have significantly enhanced not only the quantity of molecular knowledge of the freshwater amphipod <italic>G. pulex,</italic> but also offers great insight into the genetic profiles of different genders, developmental and moult cycle stages in <italic>G. pulex.</italic> It also provides important information on endocrine disruption and intersex gene expression profiles in a related species <italic>E. marinus.</italic> A major potential output from this study is the production of a suite of novel and established molecular markers to detect early stages of endocrine disruption in the ubiquitous benthic invertebrate, <italic> G. pulex</italic> and related amphipods.
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