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
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.