Environmental toxicology

iCod: Integrative environmental omics to understand the cod

The cod is among the most important fish species in Norwegian fisheries and more than 500,000 tons are annually harvested from the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. At the same time parts of the cod stocks are under threat, and especially coastal cod populations are on decline.

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While being on reproductive decline, North Sea and coastal cod populations also must share living areas with a growing oil and gas activity and coastal industries. These constitute a potential risk with regards to effluents and discharges of harmful compounds that can put additional pressure on an already vulnerable cod stock. It is therefore important to gather knowledge about how environmental contaminants may affect cod in terms of growth, disease, and reproduction, to be able to sustain and manage a sustainable cod stock in the future.

The iCod (Integrative environmental genomics of cod)-project has as its aim to provide a deeper understanding of how cod can respond to and cope with pollutants and environmental stress. We are using environmental ‘omics techniques such as transciptomics and proteomics to study how the expression of mRNA and proteins in different tissues (e.g. liver and brain) are affected by exposure to toxic compounds.

By identifying which genes and proteins are affected, network and pathway analyses may provide us with insight in what is happening in the cell at the molecular level. This will help us understand the molecular mechanisms associated with the compound, and what effects it may have on cod as an organism. This is the first step towards a systems biology understanding of how the cod responds to environmental pollutants. At the same time, this approach can help us identify novel biomarkers. This can be a protein, or sets of proteins, that can give us specific information about which toxicants or stressors cod is exposed to. Biomarkers are important tools for environmental monitoring.

The iCod project is a Strategic University Project supported by the Norwegian Research Council (2008-2012).