ESR4 Bettina Gro Sørensen

Project: Effect-directed identification of water-extractable toxins in alien species that expand their distribution with climate change

Principal supervisor: Dr. Werner Brack

Intro to project:

“There are currently over 12,000 plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms in the EU that are alien to their natural environment. Some 15 % of these species are invasive, and their numbers are rapidly growing.” (European commission 20161)

Research and policies on invasive species are most often focused on the loss of biodiversity as the invasive species outcompete the local flora, e.g. in terms of shadowing and nutrient competition. Further, in several cases, the invasive species form dense populations, which sheer mass pose challenges for the anthropogenic use, e.g. when populations of Elodea crowd the otherwise free waters of lakes and makes competitive rowing impossible – without mowing the invasive plant. However, very little research has been performed on the potential toxins that these expanding plants may contain and release into the environment, at risk for both the ecosystem and the anthropogenic use of the water resources. This Ph.D. work thus sets out to assess and identify which plants may potentially cause a risk and to identify whether these plants contain any toxins of concern. The method is effect-directed analysis, pioneered and refined by supervisor Werner Brack, in which one works from the identification of effects of a certain mixture (here plant extracts with an unknown composition of biogenic chemicals) to identification of the causing compounds through an iterative process including fractionation and bio-testing. The objectives of the Ph.D. are thus

  • Literature review on toxins and toxic effects of invasive species
  • Effect-based screening of toxins in extracts of selected invasive species using an array of cell based reporter gene assays addressing endocrine disruption (AR, ER, GR, RAR, RXR), mutagenicity, adaptive stress responses (oxidative stress, inflammatory response and DNA repair) and immunotox effects
  • Identification of new toxins using effect-directed analysis and structure elucidation by LCQExactive MS/MS and in silico methods for prediction of physico-chemical properties, fragmentation, and toxicity

Further, several crops are expanding their distribution in Europe and abroad, as the awareness of global climate change leads populations and governments to look for alternatives to fossil fuels as energy resources. As these by now cover a large percentage of the European landscape, samples of these will be included in order to investigate whether they pose a risk to our drinking water bodies.