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Innovative biodiagnosis meets chemical structure elucidation – Novel tools in effect directed analysis to support the identification and monitoring of emerging toxicants on a European scale

Final Report Summary - EDA-EMERGE (Innovative biodiagnosis meets chemical structure elucidation – Novel tools in effect directed analysis to support the identification and monitoring of emerging toxicants on a European scale)

Manifold industrial and agricultural activities have increased chemical pollution of surface waters with potential risks to aquatic ecosystems and human health. From 2005 to 2015 the number of registered chemical substances increased from 26 to 100 million. The increasing number of produced and used chemicals makes it more and more difficult to identify toxicants actually causing effects on ecosystems. Traditional approaches such as the screening of environmental samples for known compounds are pushed to their limits. Thus, effect-based tools are required, combining biotesting and chemical analysis for identification of hazardous compounds. An effective tool for toxicant identification in environmental samples in site-specific risk assessment is effect-directed analysis (EDA), however, some bottlenecks in the approach remain.
EDA-EMERGE is a Marie Curie initial training network project of 10 partners and 4 associated partners, focusing on the training of 14 young environmental scientists in interdisciplinary techniques required to meet the major challenges in the monitoring, assessment and management of toxic pollution in European river basins. Within the project, the young researchers aimed to develop new bio-analytical detection tools to further improve the detection of effects on organisms, enhance the analytical power for the identification of hazardous compounds and further accelerate the EDA-approach by miniaturization of test systems and automatization of whole processes.

EDA-EMERGE organized an intensive training program, including 13 training courses to provide competences in the European regulatory framework, sampling and sample preparation techniques, theory and practice of separation techniques, conventional as well as novel biodiagnostic tools and state-of-the-art tools of chemical analysis. An intensive summer school and an international PhD-student conference were organized to create a platform to establish networks for future cooperations and discuss newest findings and visions for future research as well as research needs related to emerging pollutants and multiple stressors. Therefore, all training activities were also available to external PhD and postdoctoral fellows from other EU networks and partner universities.

The courses, the supervision and the good cooperation within the EDA-EMERGE partner institutes created the basis for promising research results. One of the highlights of EDA-EMERGE was the joint monitoring campaign “European Demonstration Program” (EDP) carried out in four distinct European River basins, involving all fellows of the project. First, a simplified, cost-effective EDA protocol and comprehensive scheme for the assessment of organic contaminants, suitable for the extensive application in the European regulatory and monitoring context, was developed. The EDP demonstrated the applicability of the simplified protocol and further showed the applicability of the novel LVSPE50 sampling device for monitoring purposes on the European scale. Within the extensive monitoring 102 out of 140 target compounds were found in surface water samples and biotesting showed effects of various compounds with different mode of actions. This shows that the list of target substances and bioassays were well selected for a detailed characterization of the sampling sites with respect to emerging pollutants. The EDP demonstrated the great cooperative effort of 10 research teams to gain a unique set of chemical and ecotoxicological results relevant to the emerging contaminants and identified several hotspot locations with high contamination levels. These hotspot locations were selected to apply higher tier EDA (HT-EDA) techniques for the identification of emerging toxicants that are not included in current priority pollutant and (national) river basin specific pollutant lists and thus in routine chemical screening. In the course of these studies, several compounds have been identified, causing algal toxicity as well as estrogenic activity to fish. The relevant data will be implemented in databases open to the public and public authorities.

Beside the joint research activities of the simplified protocol, EDP and HT-EDA, the fellows also achieved significant scientific progress in their individual projects important for environmental research as well as European authorities. Thus, several new biodiagnostic tools to detect anti-androgenic, estrogenic and pro-thyroidogenic compounds as well as high-throughput bioassays were developed. An algal test detecting PSII efficiency and ROS-formation of organic compounds and mixtures was miniaturized and optimized. Various analytical methods to detect metabolic profiles were developed. Chemical identification has been simplified by an optimized peak picking and candidate structure elucidation tool, compounds within the EDP have been prioritized and a workflow for the prioritization of unknown transformation products has been elaborated. Finally, a comprehensive multi-dimensional liquid chromatography combined with high-throughput bioassays was developed. These results are especially relevant for the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) investigative monitoring, where investigation of suitable approaches was identified as a key task for the „Chemical Status Assessment“.

All Fellows presented the outcome of these studies to a scientific audience at 39 national and international conferences as well as workshops, contributing with 46 poster and 28 oral presentations. Furthermore, EDA-EMERGE results were published in six articles in peer reviewed journals and about 44 manuscripts are in preparation. In public outreach activities fellows acted as Marie Curie ambassador giving presentations to high school students or EDA-EMERGE results were presented at science slams and science fairs, but also to politicians and the general public.

All EDA-EMERGE activities as well as published results and background information are available at the project website.