A major challenge facing humanity and the ocean’s health is the degradation of marine environments due to the release and accumulation of a wide range of environmental toxicants, mainly of anthropogenic origin. These include endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), metals and nano/microplastics and other emerging contaminants, all of which pose possible risks for wildlife and human health through either direct exposure or accumulation in the food web.
Scientists have certainly raised these concerns; evidence of the disruptive effects of some specific groups of xenobiotics have been generated, some based on high-throughput omics or systems biology surveys, and several programs have been developed worldwide to assess their risk or toxicity and prioritize monitoring in aquatic environments. However, current monitoring programmes are limited by the relatively low number of target tissues and species analysed, a lack of knowledge about mechanisms of disruption and the effects of complex mixtures of chemicals that simulate the real-life polluted environments.
Most current ecotoxicological assays use in vitro or in vivo practical models with small fresh-water fish such as the zebrafish, fathead minnow or the water flea Daphnia, but not enough is yet known about the cross-species conservation of disruptive impacts and how the effects would translate into real-life effects in marine ecosystems. Nor is there a thorough understanding about how these impacts would affect organisms from different taxa in the highly biodiverse marine biosphere. Given the ecological and economic importance of marine environments, it is essential to defend them and determine if implemented programs for pollutant testing are representative of the marine environments and organisms. The EuroMarine-funded foresight workshop MODEL-EDC aims to tackle this issue by reviewing the current state of the art in terms of EDC threats and modelling and work out a path forward in order to support more robust monitoring programmes.
- Map current assays and models of risk assessment and monitoring for environmental toxicants, particularly endocrine disruptors (EDCs), in aquatic organisms (including both vertebrate and invertebrate organisms).
- Critically discuss how predictive and representative current models are for the marine biosphere, taking into consideration taxa diversity and interconnectivity and considering the possible biomagnification of EDC/toxicant effects across the food chain.
- Assess the gaps in knowledge in relation to safe exposure limits while also taking into consideration exposure to single chemicals or complex mixes from a biological and chemical perspective.
- Compare the outcomes of EDC/toxicant exposure between fresh-water models and marine organisms.
MODEL-EDC will bring together experts from different fields of eco-toxicology and endocrine-disruption and facilitate a discussion on current assays for evaluating and predicting the environmental risks of xenobiotics, how useful assays are for monitoring marine systems and the potential impact of xenobiotics on marine environments, challenges and future directions. This will create a consolidated network of experts in these topics capable and willing to submit at least one proposal for funding (e.g. European project, JPI, Training network or COST action). The organisers also expect to produce a manuscript for submission to a journal such as Aquatic Toxicology, Environmental Research, or others.
MODEL-EDC will have an immediate impact by creating and promoting a network of connected researchers in this emerging and important field. Further potential follow-on socio-economic impacts from the development of improved monitoring programmes can be expected in the fields of environmental protection, drug risk assessment and policies on monitoring prioritization, water quality and safety.