Bio-Uptake Research Laboratory — Menlo Park, California

Science Center Objects

 

About the Laboratory

The Bio-Uptake Research Laboratory uses novel stable isotope tracing techniques to assess the bioavailability of inorganic contaminants and characterize the underlying processes governing their bioavailability.

 

Experimental laboratory setup to study uranium uptake by aquatic organisms

Experimental laboratory setup to study uranium uptake by aquatic organisms.

(Credit: Christopher C. Fuller, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Key Laboratory and Analytical Capabilities

  • Inductively coupled plasma-mass spectroscopy
  • Controlled temperature rooms
  • Incubators
  • Ultra-centrifuge
  • Dynamic light scattering
  • Uv-vis spectrophotometer
  • Freeze dryer
  • Micro balance
Picture of the freshwater snail (Lymnaea stagnalis) used in the laboratory exposure tests to understand metal uptake

Picture of the freshwater snail - Lymnaea stagnalis

(Credit: Javier Garcia-Alonso, Contact Marie-Noële Croteau, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Contaminants Studied

We study dissolved metals such as copper (Cu), silver (Ag), uranium (U), and zinc (Zn); and synthesized and natural forms of particulate metals as well as engineered nanomaterials.

Diatom mat used during a feeding experiment to study the dietary uptake of uranium by mayflies

Diatom mat used during a feeding experiment to study the dietary uptake of uranium by mayflies

(Credit: Marie-Noële Croteau, USGS. Public domain.)

The mayfly (Cinygmula) is one of the insects scientists use to study the bioaccumulation of dissolved and dietary metals

The mayfly (Cinygmula) is one of the insects scientists use to study the bioaccumulation of dissolved and dietary metals.

(Credit: Marie-Noële Croteau, USGS. Public domain.)

 

How to Assess Metal Bioavailability?

In controlled laboratory experiments, model species such as snails or insect larvae are exposed to metal(s) either via the aqueous or the dietary phase, or both. Enriched stable metal isotopes are used to trace the uptake and elimination of the metal(s) in each exposed individual.

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of diatoms with zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of diatoms with zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are studying the linkages between contaminant bioavailability and toxicity, especially in aquatic organisms exposed to metals and metallo-nanomaterials through solution and diet.

(Credit: Agnieszka Dybowska, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Why Does "Bioavailability" Matter?

Contaminant bioavailability matters because bioavailability is a key driver of bioaccumulation, which often precedes the onset of biological effects. An understanding of the biogeochemical processes governing bioavailability can help differentiating perceived versus actual environmental health effects.

 Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River in Colorado

Although the visual picture of mixing zones at stream confluences appears straightforward, such as this one at the confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River in Colorado, the chemical reactions that occur make them extremely complex from a water-quality perspective.

(Credit: Marie-Noële Croteau, USGS. Public domain.)

Example

The assessment of zinc bioavailability from different particles suggests that Zn from zinc oxide nanoparticles (often the main ingredient in sunscreens) is extremely high because Zn readily dissolves from the particles and is taken up from the dissolved phase. In contrast, the bioavailability of Zn from particles naturally formed in acid mine drainage wastes is low because Zn sorption to the natural particles is strong.

Graph showing the difference in the bioavailability of zinc (Zn) from particles collected in two mine drainage impacted rivers

Graph showing the difference in the bioavailability of zinc (Zn) from particles collected in two mine drainage impacted rivers—the Snake River and the Animas River.

(Public domain.)

 

Collaboration is Key

This laboratory thrives on collaborations notably wit:

  • Chemists and geologists because geochemical processes control the attributes and forms of contaminants;
  • Biologists because species-specific physiological processes govern the uptake, loss, internal sequestration and cellular fate of metals;
  • Microbiologists because metal uptake occurs primarily in the gut where trillions of microorganisms reside fulfilling essential physiological functions; and
  • Ecologists because of the importance of food web and contaminants transfer across ecosystems.