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Physiological modes of action across species and toxicants: the key to predictive ecotoxicology

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Publication details

JournalEnvironmental Sciences: Processes and Impacts
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Oct 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Nov 2017
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)48-57
Early online date1/11/17
Original languageEnglish


As ecotoxicologists we strive for a better understanding of how chemicals affect our environment. Humanity needs tools to identify those combinations of man-made chemicals and organisms most likely to cause problems. In other words: which of the millions of species are at risk from pollution? And which of the tens of thousands of chemicals contribute most to the risk? We identified our poor knowledge on physiological modes of action (how a chemical affects the energy allocation in an organism), and how they vary across species and toxicants, as a major knowledge gap. We also find that the key to predictive ecotoxicology is the systematic, rigorous characterization of physiological modes of action because that will enable more powerful in vitro to in vivo toxicity extrapolation and in silico ecotoxicology. In the near future, we expect a step change in our ability to study physiological modes of action by improved, and partially automated, experimental methods. Once we have populated the matrix of species and toxicants with sufficient physiological mode of action data we can look for patterns, and from those patterns infer general rules, theory and models.


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