ECU Faculty Awarded NSF Grant to Study Effects of Crude Oil on Fish Development

In a continuation of various research efforts by East Carolina University professors on the BP Gulf Oil Spill, Drs. Ed Stellwag, Anthony Overton, Xiaoping Pan and Baohong Zhang, biology professors in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, have received a National Science Foundation grant in the amount of $199,477. Their project “RAPID: Influence of Environmental Crude Oil Exposure on Genetic Mechanisms of Fish Development,” is being funded by the NSF Division of Integrative Organismal Systems for 12 months, effective Sept. 1, 2010.

The researchers will conduct detailed experiments in the field and laboratory to document dispersant-treated crude oil exposure-related developmental defects. Also, they will use powerful Next Generation DNA sequencing technologies and bioinformatics analysis methods to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the developmental defects related to crude oil exposure.

Goals include the categorization of the developmental defects resulting from dispersant-treated crude oil and pinpointing the molecular mechanisms behind the sensitivity of embryos to environmental pollutants like crude oil. They hope their results will be useful in establishing appropriate measures to mitigate the damaging effects of environmental pollutants on this sensitive stage of life.

“This project is a great example of how ECU biologists with very different skills in ecology, development, toxicology and molecular biology can collaborate to address an important research problem of national relevance,” said Dr. Jeff McKinnon, chair of the Department of Biology. “This work complements other ECU studies of how the Gulf Oil Spill is affecting our natural environment.”

Additional individuals within Harriot College performing funded research on the Gulf Oil Spill include Dr. David Kimmel, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Siddhartha Mitra, assistant professor of geological sciences.

For more information on this research, contact Stellwag, principle investigator, at 252-328-6302 or