UW prof receives over $200K from federal government to fund aquatic ecosystem study


A UW professor is receiving more than $200,000 over three years from the federal government to fund his research project on antidepressants in aquatic ecosystems. This comes as part of an announcement on Mar. 29 from Fisheries and Oceans Canada that said it will provide almost $3 million over the next four years to study contaminants in aquatic ecosystems. 

With this funding, biology professor Mark Servos will study how antidepressants accumulate and impact wild fish populations. He has previously been awarded more than $1 million to test for COVID-19 in wastewater to gain a better understanding of how the virus is transmitted through communities. 

Servos focuses most of his research on ecotoxicology in water systems. He currently serves as a Canada Research Chair in water quality protection and is also a member of the Water Institute.

Antidepressants are widely used across Ontario and can be easily introduced into bodies of water. These substances can be biotransformed into detectable molecules that can be detected in untreated wastewater and can wreak havoc on ecosystems by causing chemical stress on the aquatic environment. 

The chemicals have the ability to alter the behavioural responses of fish in these ecosystems that are exposed. Ecosystems near wastewater treatment plants also tend to suffer from higher nutrient loads, decreased oxygen levels and changes in temperature along with the presence of these chemicals. 

“It is critical for us to examine how pharmaceuticals move in the environment, in particular how they bioaccumulate in fish and cause changes in key biological processes,” said Charmaine Dean, vice-President, research and international at UW. “We are very pleased to have this important project led by professor Mark Servos…who has extensive knowledge in the areas of ecotoxicology and integrated water resources management.”

The Government of Canada is invested in advancing research surrounding contamination in Canadian bodies of water and how they affect the animal populations in them. Servos will be using the funding to perform field assessments and laboratory studies, as well as model and study the effects that municipal wastewater treatments have on the bioaccumulation of pharmaceuticals in water.

The funding will allow nine different research facilities to address multiple issues surrounding the biological effects of contamination on aquatic species. These groups include the University of Toronto, which will receive $217,870 over three years to investigate the ecological impact of microplastics on wild fish and their aquatic ecosystems. The IISD Experimental Lakes Area will also receive $220,736 over three years to investigate the effects of antipsychotic pharmaceuticals by analyzing ecosystem-based enclosures. 


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