How do organisms adapt to their natural environment? I am interested in examining physiological and biochemical traits underlying organismal adaptation to their environment and how these traits are altered in response to fluctuations in their habitat. In this context, my research in the Di Giulio Lab broadly focuses on ecological and physiological consequences of exposure and resistance to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Over the last few decades, several populations of estuarine fish Fundulus heteroclitus, inhabiting the Elizabeth River, VA, have evolved resistance to teratogenic and carcinogenic effects of PAHs. These fish provide a unique model to explore costs and mechanisms of adapting to environmental contaminants, particularly in the context of multiple abiotic stressors. To examine potential bioenergetic costs associated with this adaptation, we have recently modified a high-throughput assay to quantify various aspects mitochondrial function of whole organs (fish hearts and brains). Using this technology and respirometry studies, I am currently investigating energetic costs and other tradeoffs (e.g. altered thermal plasticity) associated with resistance to PAHs in F. heteroclitus. I am also just beginning to explore potential genome wide methylation differences that might underlie the adaptive phenotype of F. heteroclitus. In addition, we recently completed a large-scale transcriptomic study examining molecular changes underpinning the cardiac teratogenic effects of PAHs. Overall, using F. heteroclitus as a model and by integrating ‘omics‘ approaches with whole animal physiological studies, we aim to better understand species’ responses to rapidly changing global environments.
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