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The Indiana University Consortium for Environmental Genomics and Toxicology

Pollutants stress the environment, posing severe challenges to all organisms and often endangering human health.  We know of about 80,000 chemical compounds that are currently being released, and the list keeps expanding.  Every year, new and poorly understood classes of chemicals are introduced to market.  The need for understanding their health effects is complicated by changes in landscapes, which result from an ever-more-active search for natural resources and sources of energy.

These activities are transforming our environments in unprecedented ways and it is imperative that our understanding of their consequences grow in an equally unprecedented way.  We require rigorous and efficient approaches to study both the consequences of these thousands of environmental stresses on human health and their effects on the other living organisms that collectively create our environments.  We require monitoring tools that can provide more and better data, while increasing testing efficiencies and lowering their costs.

Modern genomics can provide these tools.  Genomic methods can simultaneously measure the responses of all of an organism's genes to pollutants and can create informative catalogs of the effects of environmental stressors on key sentinel organisms on a massive scale. The Indiana University Consortium for Environmental Genomics and Toxicology [CEGT] has been organized to carry out research to evaluate the efficacy of this approach and to provide the background information required for the widespread adoption of genomics methods by those regulatory agencies charged with monitoring pollutants.

Organisms that are found everywhere and that have well described genome sequences can report on the state of the environment.  These sentinel species include the freshwater micro-crustacean Daphnia, various nematodes in soil, and microbes that form the basis of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.  To this end, the CEGT will seek funding to learn how pollutant exposure is reflected in patterns of gene expression by these organisms, to discover ways for integrating this information into databases, and to devise meaningful environmental assessment tools based on these observations.  We will use this information to guide research into how pollutants affect the fitness of organisms, including humans. Finally, we will investigate how this information can be used to inform policy makers, guide future research, and ultimately improve environmental conditions and human health.

The CEGT is an alliance – across Indiana University campuses – of research groups with complementary strengths in genomics, in toxicology, in ecology, and in the environmental sciences.  The Consortium is an alliance designed to take the crucial next step in environmental toxicology.  The founding members of the CEGT are: The Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics (IUB), The Center for Environmental Health (IUSOM), The School of Public and Environmental Affairs, The Center for Research in Environmental Science (IUB).

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