Environmental proteomics: A new method to identify pollution in coastal waterways


This research will develop a new, more sensitive generation of environmental monitoring tools using proteomics to detect and assess pollutants in coastal environments and allow contamination to be managed before it does permanent biological damage.


Associate Professor Gavin Birch

Research Location

School of Geosciences

Program Type



The aim of this project is to develop a revolutionary new generation of biomonitoring tools for coastal waterways based on proteomics. Proteomics will provide a vastly superior environmental monitoring technology by detecting complex changes in protein expression among estuarine animals associated with chemical pollution.Environmental contamination by chemical pollutants threatens the biological sustainability of coastal waterways in Australia. Most of the currently available techniques to assess the health of animals in contaminated estuaries are tedious, difficult and expensive. More importantly, existing methods usually cannot discriminate between different types of pollutants and they lack sufficient sensitivity to detect sub-acute physiological changes before permanent biological damage occurs.The inability of current monitoring systems to adequately gauge biological effects of contamination means that a new generation of more sensitive analytical techniques is required. These new tests need to: be biologically relevant to the organisms living in coastal waterways, identify the specific contaminants causing biological harm, provide early warning of environmental contamination and, distinguish between transient responses and long-term biological damage.Early evidence indicates that environmental proteomics meets all of these essential requirements, but it has not yet been developed for field assessment. This project will for the first time provide such field-based analysis. Initially, distinct proteomic signatures in oysters and amphipods that are associated with contamination by major types of pollutants will be identified in laboratory-based experiments. It will then be confirmed that these signatures can be used for biomonitoring in the field. Field trials will focus on Sydney Harbour, which is one of the most heavily contaminated estuaries in the world and for which we already have a large georeferenced  chemical data set. 

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Proteomics, contamination, estuary, oysters, amphipods, biomonitoring, pollutants, protein expression, geology

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 681

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