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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.

Ecotoxicology & Immunology

EcotoxEcotoxicology and immunology of marine organisms are two of the main disciplines for determining marine ecosystem health, long before population or community level changes become apparent. This is particularly important in an era of novel and emerging technologies, whose products pose yet unknown threats and challenges to the marine environment.


Ecotoxicological biomarkers are often the only reliable evidence of organism exposure to anthropological contaminants in the marine environment, especially for substance that are not bioaccummulated and when dealing with very low concentrations are not detectable with conventional analytical methods or because of the complex nature of the contaminant mixtures. Nevertheless, physiological disturbances at various levels of biological organization can indicate exposure to one or more compound classes.

One of the key areas of ecotoxicological research in CMBB is the adaptation of existing toxicological endpoints, often borrowed from biomedical research, and the development of novel biomarkers of exposure for marine organisms. A notable example is the adaptation of the Comet assay, a technique for detecting DNA damage above normal metabolic levels following exposure to genotoxic contaminants in marine mussels and fish.


Marine animals and plants are constantly under threat from viruses, bacteria and parasites. For their survival, they depend on the cells and proteins of their innate immune defence systems. Currently, research focuses on immune defences in marine invertebrates, particularly molluscan and crustacean shellfish. Understanding how they protect themselves against opportunistic and obligate pathogens is crucial for the continued sustainability of such commercially important species. Additionally, environmental or chemical stress can adversely affect immune cells and molecules, which in turn can impact on successful disease resistance.

Research therefore includes not only fundamental studies on how these animals defend themselves, but also investigates the impact of stress on the immune system and its consequences.

Summaries of projects currently being conducted on ecotoxicology and immunology within the CMBB can be accessed in the menu on the left.