What is Environmental Toxicology?

Environmental toxicology is a multidisciplinary field of science that focuses on studying the effects of manmade and natural chemical, biological, and physical agents on living organisms in their natural habitats. Environmental toxicology employs risk assessment principles where the potential toxicity of a chemical is examined relative to exposure of the target population. Environmental toxicologists work in academia, government agencies, and industry. They apply principles of chemical fate and transport in the environment, epidemiology and species differences to evaluate potential toxic impacts on ecosystems and human health. An important part of this evaluation is understanding the dose-response relationship for a toxicologic effect relative to exposure to that chemical.


Environmental Toxicants

Environmental toxicants come from various sources and include organic and inorganic pollutants, biological agents, and pesticides. There are multiple places where they can enter our environment and potentially impact our health. Pesticides sprayed on vegetables can make it into our food system directly or through runoff into a local stream, and particles that wear off vehicle tires can increase the concentration of heavy metals in sediment and dust around roads. Pharmaceutical compounds can enter surface waters via wastewater. There are many examples of potential toxicants which make their way into the air, water, dust, soil, sediment, and our food. These substances can have substantial effects on both humans and animals. Of particular interest are compounds that interfere with normal hormonal activity, endocrine disrupting chemicals, as they can have an impact on various health outcomes including reproduction and cancer. That is why chemical environmental risk assessments need to be performed.


Environmental Toxicity Studies

Environmental toxicity studies are crucial components in environmental health research and are often used to guide environmental protection management decisions and public health risk assessments and policies. Environmental risk assessments are conducted to determine the probability of organisms being affected by the exposure to a potential toxicant. Through chemical and biological testing, environmental toxicologist discover which substances can immediately be harmful to humans and other organisms. They try to understand the negative impacts these substances can have on different organisms after a period of exposure. In these biological evaluations, cell-based assays and whole organisms can be used to determine how much of a toxin an organism can be exposed to before adverse effects occur. An important part of this process is understanding whether a chemical will break down over time or if it will bioaccumulate in organisms and the environment. Chemicals that do not breakdown over time are commonly referred to as “persistent organic pollutants” or more colloquially as “forever chemicals”. These evaluations are crucial for setting the levels of toxicants that humans and other organisms can be exposed to without suffering adverse effects.


INDIGO’s Role in Environmental Toxicology

An efficient and reliable method for conducting studies in environmental toxicology involves the use of cell-based reporter assays. Reporter assays can detect the cumulative toxicity posed by mixtures of known and unknown chemicals found in a sample and can help researchers understand the risk posed by the complex mixtures of chemicals that can be found in the environment. These assays can be used for proactive screening—for example, when a company is developing or licensing a new chemical compound and wants to understand its potential biological effects—and reactive screening—for example, when trying to trace symptoms of toxicant exposure back to a mechanistic cause.


INDIGO Biosciences’ cell-based reporter assays have been a leading option in environmental research due to their fast, accurate, sensitive, reproducible results. These assays are particularly well-suited for examining compounds for endocrine disruption with sensitive and robust systems that report the level of estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormone receptor activity. Our assays allow researchers to evaluate the effects of compounds on both human receptors and a range of ortholog receptors from a variety of animal species including dog, mouse, zebrafish, and rat. This provides scientists the opportunity to choose the most pertinent receptor for their environmental testing approach. INDIGO has an extensive catalog of bioassay kits for receptors that are important in environmental monitoring such as when evaluating adverse outcome pathways such as endocrine disruption.


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