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Research, Wildlife and Landscape Science

Article Title

Molecular Toxicology

Laboratory equipment | Photo: photos.comMolecular toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of natural and synthetic chemicals on organisms at the molecular level and how these changes are impacted by genetic, physiological and environmental conditions.

Molecular toxicology tools are used by Environment Canada researchers in order to understand the effects of toxic substances on the health of wildlife which can help inform regulators and policy makers.

Environment Canada scientists determine the overt toxicity and molecular-level effects of substances such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) in cultured cells and whole avian embryos.

Understanding the molecular sensitivity of species to toxic chemicals will contribute to risk assessments by allowing researchers to make predictions based on these molecular toxicological evaluations. In addition, research findings from molecular toxicology studies often lead to the use of more complex approaches to determine levels of toxicity - approaches known as toxicogenomics.

Setting up an experiment to determine the effects of priority brominated flame retardants on avian gene expression | Photo: Environment CanadaEnvironment Canada scientists have used molecular toxicology to determine the differences in sensitivity among species to particular chemicals.

There are dramatic differences within and among vertebrate classes in the sensitivity to dioxins and ‘dioxin-like’ chemicals (DLCs). Environment Canada scientists can use molecular toxicology to assess whether a particular receptor, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), is associated with these species differences. By determining the DNA sequence similarity of the AHRs in birds, researchers can make preliminary predictions regarding the relative sensitivity of these species to DLCs.

Experts in molecular toxicology

Further reading