What are you studying?

I haven’t written anything here in a while, and now’s a better time than never. Summer has passed and the days are become shorter as the nights become longer. Winter is about to settle in and here I am working on my Masters.

“What are you studying in Norway?” my friends often ask me.

“A Masters of Science, specialising in Biology,” I reply.

“What are you researching?”

“Environmental Toxicology.”

Ready for a day of work in the laboratory!

Ready for a day of work in the laboratory!

One of the reasons I moved to Norway was to study overseas and gain perspective on how foreign institutes conduct research. And Bergen is just the perfect place for that!

Environmental Toxicology is an important field of study in Norway. Seafood and oil are big exports, and we need to ensure that pollutants from human sources aren’t contaminating the waters and the fish which swim in them! The last thing we want for dinner is a plate of salmon full of pollutants that we can’t even taste or see!

While some toxicologists focus on the impact of pollution on wildlife (as well as what gets into our food!), my focus is more mechanistic. My Masters project aims to understand why contaminants are harmful and how organisms respond during exposure (before we might see any effects).

How can I test this? I can’t simply take a fish from the water or any other animal for that matter and expose them to pollutants. It’s unethical. But I can take samples from species and use biomolecular technology to ‘cut out’ parts of cells which act when exposed to pollutants. I can investigate what these bits of the cell do, and link it back to how the species might respond overall.

IMG_7623

Preparing to separate proteins within a cell according to their size using a method called SDS-PAGE.

Over the next year, I’ll be using various techniques in the lab to try to answer this question. There are many ways we can find out what’s going on at cellular and DNA level of a species, even if we can’t see these cells and their bits and pieces with our naked eye! Some of the answers I find could contribute to future methods in toxicity testing, and provide valuable information to up and coming researchers. Environmental Toxicology is pretty cool if you ask me!

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