Plastic Pollution Working Group Members
Richard Di Giulio
Dr. Di Giulio’s lab has been studying the effects of nanoplastics in the zebrafish model (Danio rerio). Recent studies have included maternal transfers to embryos, effects on embryonic development, effects on energetics in embryos and adults, underlying mechanisms for observed effects, and interactions with other marine pollutants such as hydrocarbons and with other stressors (e.g., elevated temperature and hypoxia). More broadly, he is interested in marine pollutants as evolutionary drivers and associated fitness costs. These studies focus on the estuarine Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus).
Dr. Ferguson’s laboratory focuses on assessing release of polymer additives such as dyes, antioxidants, ultraviolet (UV) inhibitors, vulcanizing agents, and plasticizers from plastics and microplastics after release into the aquatic environment. They are particularly interested in the chemical transformation and potential toxic effects of these additives in aquatic ecosystems. The lab employs high-resolution mass spectrometry and optical spectroscopy methods to identify, quantify, and characterize both polymers and their component additives in the environment.
Dr. Hsu-Kim’s team studies biogeochemical processes that affect the fate of trace metals in natural and engineered systems. A central theme to their work is the utilization of chemical speciation for understanding and predicting the persistence, mobility and bioavailability of metals and minerals in the aquatic environment. The team helps other researchers to look at trace metals associated with microplastics in plastic and animals that have consumed plastic.
Dr. Rittschof’s research is focused on the toxicology and physiological impacts on marine animals of molecules leaching from plastics, the flavors of plastics that cause plastics to be consumed, the impacts of consumption on animals eating plastic and the role of plastics as platforms for delivery of biologically active molecules to animals and for removal of biologically active molecules from animals. The lab’s goal is to inform policy and manufacturing processes.
Dr. Somarelli’s team is trying tackle the plastic waste pandemic in the following ways: 1) developing new enzymes and microbial systems to biodegrade plastic, 2) using bioinformatics to identify enzymes with plastic degrading capability, 3) understanding the influence of plastic ingestion as a carrier of environmental toxins, and 4) engaging students in research aimed at improving societal understanding of humanity's negative impacts on the environment and human health.
Dr. Stapleton’s research focuses primarily on identifying and evaluating human exposure to chemical additives in plastics. For example, plastics are often treated with chemicals to confer properties such as flame retardancy, anti-aging, and flexibility. These chemicals can be added to the plastics at levels up to 30% by weight, and many leach out over the lifetime of the product leading to exposure, for both wildlife (e.g. in the oceans), but also people (e.g. in the home).
Dr. Vallero’s research involves the development of modules to be part of models needed to conduct chemical exposure and risk assessments. These assessments are especially related to consumer products, articles and building materials. This includes classes of chemicals used to manufacture plastic products, including solvents and plasticizers. He also continues to conduct research on so-called "far-field models", i.e., environmental transport, transformation and fate models that estimate concentrations of chemical compounds after release into the environment. At Duke, Dr. Vallero is part of a team developing curriculum and research in engineering economics and ethics. His most recent contribution in this venue is a recent article in the American Society of Civil Engineering's Journal of Environmental Engineering: https://ascelibrary.org/doi/10.1061/%28ASCE%29EE.1943-7870.0001676
The West laboratory has a developing interest I microplastic toxicity with respect to susceptibility and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. We hypothesize that the so-called primary-proteinopathies, in particular, may be precipitated or otherwise affected by microplastic exposures, either in neurodevelopment stages or accumulations in lifetime exposures. We are further interested in how microplastics might infiltrate or accumulate in the central nervous system and gut.
More broadly, our laboratory is focuses on identifying critical pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease with the goal of developing new therapeutics to block disease progression.