ESR14 Barbara Kubíčková

Project: Health risks of natural toxins in surface waters

Principal supervisor: Dr. Klára Hilscherová

Intro to project: Quality of drinking water is governed by a number of EU regulations, assuring an internationally high standard. Nevertheless, a growing population and global warming challenge the ubiquitous access to clean and safe drinking water. The Initial Training Network (ITN) NaToxAq aims to maintain safe drinking water despite climate change and ongoing pollution of freshwater bodies. Besides xenobiotic compounds, toxic compounds of biological origin may have severe adverse effects on human health, hence deserve scientific vigilance.

Especially bacteria and photosynthetic organisms – plants and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) – are known to produce a large variety of secondary metabolites leaching to and accumulating in soil and water reservoirs. Excessive use of fertilizers, insufficient wastewater treatment and global warming lead to an increase in frequency and intensity of cyanobacterial blooms. Especially these massive proliferation events lead to the release of cyanobacterial toxic compounds – cyanotoxins – to water and may threaten human health in several ways. Exposure may occur directly through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact or indirectly by consumption of contaminated food, e.g. fish or shellfish. Besides several routes of exposure, cyanotoxins may target different organs: while many described toxins target the liver or kidney as the main detoxifying and excreting organs (e.g. cyclic peptides microcystins, cylindrospermopsin), others have neurotoxic properties (e.g. anatoxin, all-trans-retinoic acid).

While many of the projects within this ITN focus on identification of natural toxins, their fate and degradation, the aim of my project is to discover, examine and describe health effects of surface water-borne toxins and their degradation (by)-products with a special focus on cyanobacterial toxins and their effects on airway epithelia, the immune system and digestive tract, as well as neurotoxic effects in human. In order to replace, reduce and refine animal testing (3R principle), as imposed by the European Union Directive 2010/63/EU (, all experiments will be conducted in vitro using state-of-the-art methods of molecular and cell biology. Experiments will be conducted preferably on cells originating from human to avoid interspecies approximations during risk assessment, which should be the final and conclusive outcome of this project.