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Graduate student researches how chemical compounds in environment affect fish

Published September 11, 2013

As NDSU doctoral student Andrea Hanson looks over a water tank containing rainbow trout, she hopes her research will have a meaningful, lasting impact.

The cellular and molecular biology student from Mahnomen, Minn., studies the fish in order to discover the effect of endocrine disruptors – chemical compounds released into the environment that potentially can influence growth, development and reproduction in vertebrate animals and humans.

She studies what happens to the trout when compounds such as pesticides, plastics, flame retardant materials, household cleaners and cosmetics are introduced into the water.

“I am looking at compounds that enter the environment and once in the environment can disrupt the normal physiology of various organisms,” Hanson said. “Specifically, I look at how they affect growth at the molecular level. We develop techniques to investigate gene expression and different signaling pathways to what’s being activated or suppressed.”

Beginning as an undergraduate student and then during her five years as a graduate student, Hanson has worked in a Stevens Hall laboratory supervised by Mark Sheridan, Jordan A. Engberg Professor of biological sciences.

“Andrea has a keen, inquiring mind and will make significant contributions to science,” Sheridan said. “From quite early on as an undergraduate she asked relevant, important questions. For her graduate research she wanted to make a difference, and her project on environmental estrogens is doing just that. It is receiving global attention and, hopefully, will raise awareness about the harmful effects of these compounds on animal and human well-being and will inform policymakers about their use so as to safeguard our future.”

The research is intricate and complicated, but the findings are demonstrating the chemical compounds do affect the growth of the fish, suggesting an indirect impact on people.

“I work with rainbow trout because compounds ultimately end up in the water. Whether they enter the air or the soil first, they run off into the water,” Hanson explained. “There are consequences of technological advancement. It’s important to see what the chemical compounds do to fish and ultimately to humans.”

Hanson, who hopes to find a research position with a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company, describes her research as exciting and challenging. She urges other NDSU students to join in.

“There are a lot of ways NDSU students can get involved in research in a variety of fields. Whether as a volunteer or paid work, the opportunities for students are endless,” Hanson said.

And, for her, NDSU was the perfect university to learn and grow.

“As I've done my undergraduate and graduate programs at NDSU, I can attest to the fact that the atmosphere is welcoming, friendly and fun,” Hanson said. “The depth and breadth of the research interests of the professors here and the funding availability also drew me to graduate school at NDSU. After nine years here, NDSU has become like a second home to me. It’s been a great experience.”

The research is supported by grants from National Science Foundation award IOS 0920116, U.S. Geological Survey/North Dakota Water Commission and the NDSU Gerald Larson Agricultural Research Fund. Hanson is supported by fellowships from the North Dakota Water Resources Research Institute and the NDSU Graduate School.


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