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University of Minnesota Researcher to Study Endocrine Disruption in Fish from Duluth-Superior Harbor

The National Sea Grant College Program has awarded Minnesota Sea Grant Researcher Deborah Swackhamer $298,000 for a two-year biotechnology project, entitled “Assessing the Validity of Vitellogenin as a Biomarker of Endocrine Disruption in Populations of Fish.” Swackhamer is an associate professor with the University of Minnesota school of public health.

Deb Swackhamer

Deb Swackhamer

If successful, this study will be the first to offer a broad look at how exposure to xenoestrogens (environmental contaminants that disrupt reproduction and other functions) can affect individuals, populations, and communities of biological organisms; in this case, fish from the Duluth-Superior harbor. Using field and lab studies, Swackhamer will investigate whether the presence of vitellogenin, an egg yolk protein found in female fish, can be used as a biomarker of adverse effects in wild fish populations when it is found in male fish. Production of vitellogenin is not normal in mature males, and usually indicates exposure to xenoestrogens.

Swackhamer’s was one of several projects funded through Sea Grant’s Environmental Marine Biotechnology National Strategic Investment. The findings are expected to assist resource managers to meet the congressional mandates of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act and the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act to develop strategies for screening endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Swackhamer was also recently appointed to the Great Lakes Science Advisory Board of the International Joint Commission, an organization that resolves disputes and advises the governments of the United States and Canada about the boundary waters they share.

By Sea Grant Staff
September 2000

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