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Ecotoxicity of emerging contaminants: from the pharmaceuticals to microplastics

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PhD Students

Longitudinal section of zebrafish embryo gastrointestinal tract (GL=Gut Lumen, Y=Yolk) exposed to microplastics (red small dots)

Research interests

The main research fields of this Unit are related to the evaluation of the fate, distribution and ecotoxicity of some classes of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, illicit drugs, nanomaterials and microplastics.

These topics are faced by a multidisciplinary approach based on the following tasks:    


The primary focus is the understanding of the mechanism of actions of the emerging contaminants by some methodologies:

  • A biomarkers’ suite able to measure the activation of the detoxification machinery (Pgp, EROD, GST), antioxidant enzyme activity (SOD, CAT, GPx), genotoxicity (comet assay, micronucleus test, apoptosis), oxidative damage (PCC, LPO) and neurotoxicity (DOP, SER, GLU, MAO), as well as the ROS and COX measurement.
  • The high-throughput technology based on functional proteomics for evaluating changes in the protein pattern in response to exposure to contaminants
  • Ecotoxicological bioassays to evaluate the eco-safety of industrial/technological processes (e.g. nano-remediation)

Fate and distribution

The aims are the evaluation of the pollutants’ uptake in the organisms, the infiltration in tissues and the quali-quantification of some contaminants collected in aquatic ecosystems.

  • Advanced microscopy techniques (confocal, TEM) are used to observe the fate of physical contaminants in the tissues of some model organisms.
  • The quali-quantitative characterization of microplastics collected in the environment is obtained by the Fourier Transform Infrared Microscope System (FT-IR) coupled to mATR microscope. 
  • The environmental distribution of chemical pollutants is measured by the GC-MS/MS.


F. Gagn´┐Ż, Aquatic Contaminants Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Montreal, Canada
F. Regoli, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy
I. Corsi, Department of physical sciences, earth and environment, University of Siena, Italy
R. Freitas, Centre for environmental and marine studies, University of Aveiro, Portugal

ERC panel descriptors

LS8_9 Environmental Toxicology
PE10_17 Hydrology, water and soil pollution