Graduate student receives  award from National Science Foundation

Candica Lavelle

Candice Lavelle in the aquatic toxicology facility of the Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology. (Photo courtesy of Candice Lavelle)

Candice Lavelle, a graduate student in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of physiological sciences, has received a doctoral dissertation improvement award from the National Science Foundation.

The award will support Lavelle’s research project, titled “Behavioral and Reproductive Implications of Nanomaterial and Synthetic Estrogen Co-Exposures in Fish.”

Lavelle is completing the work now and hopes to graduate in December, according to her mentor, Dr. Nancy Denslow, a professor in the department of physiological sciences.

“The number of potential applications for manufactured nanomaterials, or NMs, is growing exponentially around the world, without concomitant research into the possible consequences of inadvertent or purposeful releases into the environment,” Lavelle said. “Fish and other aquatic organisms reside in bodies of water where these nanomaterials are likely to be disposed. A growing body of evidence suggests that some NMs, depending on their composition, size or surface functionalization, can affect fish health. The goal of this study is to evaluate if NMs can interfere with fish reproductive behavior.”

The overarching hypothesis of Lavelle’s dissertation research is that NMs introduced into fish orally can penetrate through the intestine into the blood stream and then partition into organs where they can further impact cellular mechanisms, including steroid hormone production.

“So far, I have shown that orally dosed NMs, specifically quantum dots, cross the gut epithelium and accumulate in various tissues including the gonads, suggesting they may have profound effects on tissue function,” Lavelle said. “This newly funded project will specifically address a new hypothesis that NMs are able to interfere with reproductive behaviors of fathead minnows.”

The project is important, she said, because alterations in behavior can have devastating genetic and population effects.

“This research will fill a large gap in the understanding of the ecotoxicological implications of engineered NMs that may be released into the environment,” Lavelle said. “Ultimately, studies like this one will influence NM development by clearly defining the characteristics that make NMs bio-active and that should be considered in manufacturing and future environmental regulatory policies.”

Lavelle also recently learned that she had been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship to work with Dr. Tara Sabo-Attwood, an associate professor in the department of environmental and global health at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.



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