I’m investigating pharmaceuticals as potential environmental contaminants in otters. Pharmaceuticals may reach the environment in many ways, such as after being excreted by humans or being disposed of unused. They are ubiquitous in the environment, and have been found in wild fish globally, but few studies have looked for them in animals that exist higher up in the food chain. This is partly because of the challenges of working with complex biosamples. I’ve experienced these first hand and fully appreciate why others have avoided these types of sample! This gap in research means that we don’t know if these chemicals biomagnify in the food chain or what effects they may have at higher trophic levels.
Eurasian otters present an excellent opportunity for investigating potential biomagnification of pharmaceuticals in the food chain, as they are mammalian apex predators that live in freshwater ecosystems and consume a diet of fish and seafood. As part of my research I have developed screening tools for measuring pharmaceuticals in the blood and bile of otters and then applied these to look for these chemicals in wild otters from Sweden. For this part of my research I used otters that were found dead by members of the public, usually at the roadside following a collision with a vehicle.
My favourite part of my research is tinkering with animal tissues in the lab! I love developing novel research questions and then carrying out experiments to find the answers. So far pharmaceuticals don’t appear to pose much threat to the otters that I have tested, which is great news for these animals. I’d like to apply these tools to look at otters from different geographical locations as there may be populations that are exposed to higher levels of these compounds. In the future I’d also like to apply the tools I’ve developed to other aquatic species.
Juggling my research with other commitments during the pandemic has been a challenge. I have found that engaging in online conferences, lectures and social meetings with other PhD students has helped me to stay focused on my research and feel connected to the PhD community at Manchester Met. I was also lucky enough to receive financial support from the Graduate School Research Support Award, which enabled me to spend time in the lab completing some important experiments for my project. The labs were very quiet as most students were working from home so I managed to get a lot done.
Emmelianna was funded through the Manchester Metropolitan Graduate School’s Research Support Award to complete a portion of her lab work. The next deadline for Research Support Award applications is Friday 15 January 2021 at 5pm. Find out more by visiting the PGR Development Moodle area.