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Released October 26, 2004

NOAA AWARDS $1.1 MILLION TO SOUTHERN MISS LAB

OCEAN SPRINGS -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded The University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory $1,183,099 to further the health of the nation's coastal waters.

The grant will support the GCRL's efforts to develop the next generation of molecular indicators for determining the impacts of hypoxia and toxic chemicals in estuarine ecosystems.

"The nation's estuaries are a key ecosystem component and enhanced knowledge is critical to resource management in our coasts," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "NOAA's partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi will help create the tools needed to detect early indications of nutrient overload in our estuaries."

The GCRL and Texas State University-San Marcos will conduct the collaborative research program through the Aquatic Research Consortium. The researchers are working to identify the earliest changes that hypoxia or pollutants cause in genetic processes. They are looking at how the coded information of an organism's genes is translated into processes or structures inside the cell and how those factors change following exposures.

Hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen near the water bottom, follows over-enrichment from nutrients and often increases in severity with the addition of effluent sewage treatment and urban and agricultural runoff. The resulting deterioration of water quality threatens estuarine ecosystems, and habitat quality and harvestable resources suffer. Consequences include impacts on recreationally and commercially important fisheries.

GCRL will use the sheepshead minnow for the genetic investigations. The laboratory has a history of successfully maintaining, spawning and testing the species in studies of the impacts of harmful chemicals and other factors in the marine environment.

Development of the genetic indicators of hypoxia at the cellular level will help in signaling the beginning, extent and severity of hypoxia and contamination as well as effects on plants and animals living in estuaries.

"These early warning signals may prompt remedial action before irreversible changes have set in," said GCRL toxicologist Dr. Marius Brouwer, professor of coastal sciences. "NOAA has provided the funds for the purchase of the sophisticated state-of-the-art instrumentation necessary to conduct the research."

Brouwer is leading the GCRL research. Administrative coordinator and a co-investigator on the project is pathobiologist Dr. William E. Hawkins. Hawkins is executive director of the GCRL and a professor of coastal sciences.

The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and the Department of Coastal Sciences headquartered at the lab are part of The University of Southern Mississippi College of Science and Technology.

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November 15, 2004 2:56 PM