Seminar offers insights into top
Superfund projects, including
work of UF researcher
By Sarah Carey
A group of post-doctoral associates and graduate students from the University of Florida learned more about exciting new environmental research in the national spotlight – including a recent project of their mentor, Dr. Nancy Denslow — during a web seminar held May 7 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The purpose of the seminar was to stimulate discussion between new grantees and stakeholders with the long-term goal of establishing linkages that last throughout the duration of the grant. The UF group participated in the webinar and learned about five different projects through a conference call and simultaneous slide presentation.
Five projects selected last fall through a highly competitive Superfund Research Program solicitation were highlighted. Each proposal focused on innovative new assays for determining the effectiveness of sediment remediation in reducing risks to humans.
Denslow, a co-investigator on one of the five awarded projects, recalled how she met her collaborator, principal investigator Rolf Halden, an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University.
“Two years ago, the Superfund program put out this request for proposals,” Denslow said. “What they really wanted to do was combine people doing environmental engineering with people doing bioavailability studies, so essentially engineers needed to collaborate with biologists. I’ve had Superfund funding in the past, and so has Rolf, and each year the program holds meetings where people who have been funded in the past get up and talk about their program.”
At one of these meetings, soon after the Superfund program’s request for abstracts, Halden heard Denslow give an overview of results from her previous studies. He approached her and they agreed to collaborate. One of his first questions was whether she had published her work, Denslow recalled.
The project, a three-year, $830,000 grant, involves the use of a tube-like sampling device to gauge — at previously unmeasurable limits — levels of both emerging and historical contaminants in the sediments of the muck farms that are located on the north shore of Lake Apopka. In addition, the proposal aims to measure the effect of these contaminants on two species, a black worm that likes to bury into sediments and in the fathead minnow fish, a species that is used commonly for toxicity studies.
“We’re really just getting started, so we’re getting sediments organized right now and contaminating them ourselves, making sure we can make the measurements we want to make,” Denslow said. “We have worms and fish, so we’re getting our methods organized. It will be a fun project.”
The newest post-doctoral researcher on Denslow’s team, Viet Dang, was also present at the Webinar and will be playing an active role in Denslow’s project as it moves forward. Dang has past experience in analytical chemistry and will be analyzing contaminants in the sediments and in the tissues of worms and fish. He will also learn new molecular approaches for understanding whether the contaminants are bioactive in the fish.
Doctoral students Candice Lavelle and Erica Anderson were present in the small conference room at the Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology, along with Denslow and post-doctoral researchers Alvina Mehinto and Ignacio Rodriguez. All but Rodriguez are academically homed in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Denslow used the webinar as a lesson for her students, stressing the importance of obtaining publications for career success in academia.
“I always stress to my students that publications are absolutely the currency of science,” Denslow said. “If you do well in your publications, you’ll do well in your career.”
Mehinto, a 2011 recipient of the K.C. Donnelly externship, spent three months at the University of California, Berkeley recently, furthering her studies. At Berkeley she learned new methods that may result in a greater understanding of the underlying toxicity pathways that may occur in higher organisms. She hopes to publish two papers from the experience.
Anderson, third-year Ph.D. student, studies the use of bioindicators to monitor the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on wildlife. She received both an Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowship and a National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Research Fellowship in 2011, the latter of which allowed her to spend a summer in Japan.
“They all have these cool projects and go off and do their stuff,” Denslow said.