UGA scientists test less lethal means to determine contaminant uptake

SAVANNAH, Ga. – When scientists need to determine how much of a contaminant in an environment actually remains in the animals that live there, traditionally they have had to sacrifice test animals to collect tissue for contaminant level testing. According to a paper just published in Environmental Science & Technology, scientists at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) have used a technique called laser ablation-ICP-MS to sample minute sections of an animal’s tail without sacrificing the animal.

SREL scientists Brian Jackson, William Hopkins and Jennifer Baionno used the banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata), a common nonvenomous species, as the test animal. Using a control group as well as two groups that were fed fish containing varying levels of arsenic, selenium and strontium, the scientists compared data from such traditional testing methods as whole tail concentration by homogenization, acid digestion and ICP-MS analysis with nonlethal samples.

“Taken together, the findings from this study suggest that laser ablation of micro-dissected tissue shows promise as a nondestructive technique for conservation-minded eco-toxicological studies,” said Jackson.

SREL is located on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site (SRS) and is partially funded by a grant from DOE-Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Environmental Remediation Sciences Division (ERSD) to UGA. The SRS is a key facility in support of the nation’s nuclear defense and a federally designated National Environmental Research Park located near Aiken, South Carolina.