Rapid Research Spots New Freshwater Invaders

Rebecca Klaper, Shaw Associate Professor of Freshwater Sciences

Rapid Research Spots New Freshwater Invaders

The most advanced molecular tools in North America are being used at UWM to reveal information about lake and river contamination in a fraction of the time it used to take – and with greater accuracy.

Of all the substances entering lakes and rivers from the urban landscape, which ones are harmful to aquatic life – and to people? For thousands of chemicals, scientists just don’t know. But UWM’s National Center for Great Lakes Genomics is finding the answers.

New technology at the center, part of UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences (SFS), will enable researchers to track an organism’s genes as it reacts to its environment and assess whether its health is at risk. This DNA analysis can be done with unprecedented speed.

The center will help organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency determine which emerging chemicals need immediate controls, says toxicologist Rebecca Klaper, the center director.

Only now are researchers beginning to discover, for example, how nanoparticles – atomic-scale ingredients in products ranging from sunscreen to clothing – affect organisms, says Klaper.

“It will revolutionize the study of freshwater,” says SFS Dean David Garman. “This technology is currently used in medical applications, but never before to inform ecological and environmental questions.”

Funded through multiple sources, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), the center will provide vital information for managing this essential resource as concerns about freshwater quality grow worldwide.