Atrazine is one of the most commonly used agricultural chemicals or herbicides in the US Midwest. It is applied heavily to corn crops to control growth of weeds and increase yields. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the 10 parts per billion (ppb) limit on atrazine in streams and rivers; however, concentrations >300 ppb have been reported. Rachelle M. Belanger PH.D., and her lab of undergraduate students used crayfish as a model organism to study the effects of atrazine at concentrations often found in the environment.
Abdrhman Almouseli, Karen Crile, Vanessa Manzo, and Sara Abdulelah have been members of Belanger’s lab for at least 2 years and have taken leadership roles on the team. Belanger praises the maturity of her students and their work ethic “ The students here at the University of Detroit Mercy are really great. Bringing these students into my lab they catch on really well. It’s really nice they mentor each other.”
Abdrhman Almouseli and Vanessa Manzo are also ReBUILDetroit scholars at the University of Detroit Mercy. ReBUILDetroit is an NIH funded program to increase workforce diversity in the areas of biomedical research and social sciences. Manzo states it was Belanger’s background in neuroscience that attracted her to the lab: “ I was really interested in anything that deals with effects in the digestive system or neuroscience. I want to be (partnered) with someone that has the same interest as me.”
Mohammad Hadeed, a biology sophomore, joined the lab last summer but is learning from his colleagues quickly. He says he is passionate about his research and is grateful they are sharing their results with the community. “When we find this information that no one else finds, we can inform the world and our information can be crucial to very big and detrimental effects that can happen in the future such as how atrazine affects water.”
Their research found exposing crayfish to concentrations of atrazine at and above 10 ppb causes DNA damage in neurons of the olfactory system (nose), affecting their ability to perceive and respond to important environmental odors like mating pheromones and food odors. These results have been published in two scientific journals.
Atrazine is a harmful weed killer that taints tap water for millions of Americans today. Despite the evidence of the dangers of high concentrations of the herbicide in water the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to negotiate its continued use in agriculture. Atrazine use has been banned in the European Union since 2004. Belanger and her lab continue to provide more evidence that exposes the damage from the use of this chemical in high concentrations.