Molecular and Analytical Approaches to Evaluate Chromium Contamination of Estuarine Systems in Hampton Roads, Virginia

Determining the water quality of estuarine ecosystems is difficult because of the environment's variable properties. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic metal found in estuarine ecosystems due to pollution from industrial surroundings, and methods are needed to determine biotic responses to chromium contamination. It is proposed that expression of the fatty-acid binding protein (FABP) gene in (Fundulus heteroclitus), a common estuarine inhabitant, and Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) analytical techniques can be used as indicators of hexavalent chromium contamination. Using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), FABP gene expression was analyzed to see if expression or non-expression occurred after contamination with hexavalent chromium. Compared to the more complex real-time PCR procedure that has previously been used to evaluate FABP gene expression, RT-PCR serves as a user-friendly water quality assessment procedure that is manageable, requires less training, can be performed more quickly, and at a lesser cost. ICP-OES was used to confirm the presence of chromium at experimental sites. Low levels of chromium contamination were detected across Hampton Roads, with significant differences between sites. FABP gene expression was variable across sites, suggesting further refinement of the method is needed to use gene expression as an indicator of contamination.

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