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Biomarkers: the early warning sentinel of chemical pollution risk assessment


Nowadays the risk assessment of chemical pollutions is considered essential to be evaluated on measurement of the biological effects and not only on chemical analysis of environmental samples because this approach does not provide any indication of deleterious effects on living organisms. To this demand, recently the biological markers, or biomarkers which can be defined as indicator of normal physiology alteration, emerged as extremely important to monitor the pollutant impact as well as to assess the toxic effects on the environmental health. Further, new technologies mainly based on post genomic era, which combine the studies of the gene expression at level of mRNA and protein highlighted more and more questions related to the concept of the risk assessment as well as the definition of safety margin of a chemical in the environment. In this scenario, our project proposes a new method based mainly on a very sensitive technique to monitor the effects of pollutants at transcription level (mRNA) of known biomarkers. For this purpose, two biological models will be exposed to different concentrations of marine pollutants (i.e. heavy metals and organic compound) and the known biomarkers (i.e. Metallothionein, Cytochrome P450) will be analysed at level of mRNA transcription using the Real Time Quantitative PCR (Q-PCR), which allows to detect very small changes at level of mRNA expression. Our attention will be focused on two crucial concentrations of pollutants, the one that so far is considered according to the European policies; the dose without any toxic effect and it is probably that our method could already detect an effect at molecular level. The other concentration will be used to study the so called " chronic effect" of a compound. A very low dose effect will be analysed in a long-term exposure and also in this case the " sentinel" will be the biomarker mRNA expression. The researcher would like to continue this work in her home country.

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Enrico Fermi,1
Ispra (Va)