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Linking molecular biomarkers with higher level condition indicators to identify effects of copper exposures on the endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus)


  • Presented at the 30th Annual Meeting, SETAC North America, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, November 19–23, 2009.


The delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is an endangered pelagic fish species endemic to the Sacramento–San Joaquin estuary (CA, USA), and considered an indicator of ecosystem health. Copper is a contaminant of concern in Californian waterways that may affect the development and survival of this endangered species. The experimental combination of molecular biomarkers with higher level effects may allow for interpretation of responses in a functional context that can be used to predict detrimental outcomes caused by exposure. A delta smelt microarray was developed and applied to screen for candidate molecular biomarkers that may be used in monitoring programs. Functional classifications of microarray responses were used along with quantitative polymerase chain reaction determining effects upon neuromuscular, digestive, and immune responses in Cu-exposed delta smelt. Differences in sensitivity were measured between juveniles and larvae (median lethal concentration = 25.2 and 80.4 µg/L Cu2+, respectively). Swimming velocity declined with higher exposure concentrations in a dose-dependent manner (r = −0.911, p < 0.05), though was not statistically significant to controls. Genes encoding for aspartoacylase, hemopexin, α-actin, and calcium regulation proteins were significantly affected by exposure and were functionally interpreted with measured swimming responses. Effects on digestion were measured by upregulation of chitinase and downregulation of amylase, whereas downregulation of tumor necrosis factor indicated a probable compromised immune system. Results from this study, and many others, support the use of functionally characterized molecular biomarkers to assess effects of contaminants in field scenarios. We thus propose that to attribute environmental relevance to molecular biomarkers, research should concentrate on their application in field studies with the aim of assisting monitoring programs. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:290–300. © 2010 SETAC