Michigan State University Superfund Research Program
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MSU Superfund Research Program Newsletter

The MSU Superfund Research Program is pleased to send you the third edition of our electronic newsletter. Please take a moment to read over our recent activities.  

For more information on the MSU Superfund Research Program, please visit:

In This Newsletter:

MSU-SRP Begins Community Participatory Research Project in Midland
Research Spotlight: Dr. Syed Hashsham, MSU
Journal Club Continues with New Format
Goodman Receives International Achievement Award
MSU-SRP Community Outreach Activities
Computational Systems Biology and Dose Response Modeling Short Course a Success
IT Seminar Series

MSU-SRP Begins Community Participatory Research Project in Midland

The Research Translation Core (RTC) of the MSU Superfund Program has continued to work with Midland High School to develop an environmental science curriculum that has a strong focus on the primary contaminant problem of their local community, namely the dioxin contamination of the soils of local properties, and sediments of the Tittabawassee river basin and flood plains. This past spring the RTC gave presentations to the AP Chemistry and AP Biology classes as well as AP Sociology: Theory of Knowledge class. Presentations included information on basic toxicological principles, the peer review science process, and an introduction to fish advisories, which included access to the State of Michigan’s database on levels of contaminants in fish. The presentations also were an introduction to the Gene-Z handheld gene analyzer, a field portable analyzer that links with a mobile phone app to identify microorganisms that biodegrade chlorinated organic chemicals and organisms with antibiotic resistance. The dioxygenase chips for the Gene-Z analyzer, to measure organisms of interest to the center, are being developed by utilizing the Gene-Z platform and genomic libraries through collaborative efforts of Project 4 (Syed Hashsham and Robert Stedtfeld of MSU), Project 5 (Gerben Zylstra of Rutgers University), and Core E (Jim Cole and Benli Chai). 

Three chips, along with the Gene-Z analyzers, will be validated by the students at Midland High School to initiate the Community Participatory Research Project, an integrative citizen science project with the community of Midland. This past summer, an undergraduate student at MSU optimized the analyzers by loading genes and the experimental protocol that will help find genes of interest from the soil and sediments tested, specifically those related to dioxin degradation, and those resistant to antibiotics. This fall, Midland High School, with instruction from the MSU-SRP, will start to use the Gene-Z analyzers. Their challenge will be to detect small amounts of biodegradation genes in river sediments. They will be trained on how to use the analyzer, record data, manage data, and rules on property rights for testing in their community. 

Research Spotlight

Syed Hashsham, Ph.D., Michigan State University
Dr. Timothy Zacharewski, Ph.D., MSU
Dr. Syed Hashsham, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University, is PI for Project 4 of the MSU Superfund Research Program: Gut Microbiome - Host Interactions in Response to TCDD Exposure.
Humans, like all animals have evolved in close association with microbial organisms resulting in in mutually beneficial interdependencies. In particular, the human gut is host to numerous microorganisms, which are collectively referred to as the gut microbiome forming a complex ecosystem. The gut microbiome plays critical roles in not only normal digestive and nutritional activities, but has also been linked to the normal regulation of the immune system. Chronic perturbations of these microbial communities have been linked to autoimmune diseases and metabolic syndromes.
Dr. Hashsham’s research group is determining the role of three leading groups of bacteria in modulating the immune system and their interaction with the host in response to dioxin exposure using germ-free mouse models. Results of this study will be useful in determining the protective role of gut bacteria against environmental exposure to dioxin and similar compounds on the gut microbiome. More specifically his research group is determining the effects of dioxin on segmented filamentous bacteria, members of Clostridia clusters IV and XIVa and Bacteroides fragilis and their abilities to modulate the host’s immune system through the Treg/Th17 regulatory immune signaling system. In addition, this project is also determining the effect of dioxin on the metabolism of choline by the host and the gut microbiome. Dysregulation of choline metabolism has been linked to liver steatosis that contributes to the etiology of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This project is integrally linked to MSU-SRP projects determining the effects of dioxin and related compounds on the immune system, led by Dr. Norbert Kaminski, and on liver steatosis, led by Dr. Timothy Zacharewski.
The “dioxin problem” is a global issue, yet is also one that affects the backyard of the MSU-SRP. The Tittabawassee-Saginaw watershed in Michigan is on the EPA List as an “area of concern” for high levels of dioxin and related compounds, thus affording our center unique opportunities to study the toxicity and environmental fate of these compounds. Dr. Hashsham has developed a portable, hand-held gene analyzer that can identify microbial communities. His group has customized a gene analyzer for this dioxin affected community. More specifically, with the collaboration of Dr. Geban Zylstra from MSU-SRP’s Project 5 (Molecular Insight into Dioxin Degradation by Microbes and Microbial Communities) they have identified critical genes for dioxin degradation and incorporated these onto the gene analyzer. In cooperation with the MSU-SRP “Research Translation Core” and “Community Engagement Core” a community participatory research project is being initiated to conduct a field study on mapping out microbial communities’ with high capacities to degrade dioxin. Discovering natural communities of microorganisms that can degrade environmentally persistent chlorinated organic compounds will be of immediate benefit to Project 5’s research program.

The outcomes of this research project will contribute to a better understanding of how the gut microbiome affects the health of the host, and the role of environmental toxicants, such as dioxin, play in perturbing this symbiotic relationship.
Dr. Qiang Zhang, from The Hamner Institutes, presents a Journal Club session virtually from North Carolina. 

Journal Club Continues with New Format

The Training Core of the MSU Superfund program successfully held four Journal Club sessions this past spring. The Journal Club’s goal is to provide interdisciplinary training to predoctoral and postdoctoral students. In keeping with the integrated research effort of the MSU Superfund program, each paper to be discussed monthly has an interdisciplinary aspect.

This session of the Journal Club had four distinguished presenters: Dr. Lisa Boughner, MSU; Dr. Qiang Zhang, The Hamner Institutes; Dr. Gerben Zylstra, Rutgers; and Dr. Brad Upham, MSU. The following papers were discussed:
  • Hanano, A., H. Ammouneh, et al. (2014). "Traceability of polychlorinated dibenzo-dioxins/furans pollutants in soil and their ecotoxicological effects on genetics, functions and composition of bacterial community." Chemosphere 108(0): 326-333.
  • Zhang et al., 2014, Molecular Signaling Network Motifs Provide a Mechanistic Basis for Cellular Threshold Responses, Env. Health Perspectives 122: 1261-1270
  • Hartmann EM, Armengaud J. 2014. Shotgun proteomics suggests involvement of additional enzymes in dioxin degradation by Sphingomonas wittichii RW1. Environ. Microbiol. 16:162-176.
  • Harril et al. (2015). Lineage-dependent effects of aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonists contribute to liver tumorigenesis.  Hepatology 61: 548-560.
Two strategies are employed to simulate discussion and interaction between the individual presenting the paper and the audience, as well as between members of the audience. First, papers to be discussed are distributed in advance along with several thought questions which the presenter will introduce for discussion as part of the presentation. Secondly, part-way into the presentation, the presenter will pose an open-ended question(s) and ask audience members to collaborate with each other to propose different solutions for the class as a whole to consider.

This fall, Journal Club will transition to a Laboratory Meeting format. Four monthly sessions during both Fall and Spring semesters and two sessions during the Summer will take place. Each project and core of the MSU-SRP will make one presentation per year.
One or two individuals (PI, graduate student, post doc) from each project/core will make the presentation at each meeting. The Training Core’s overall goal includes helping the graduate students and post docs working on our projects/cores enhance their communication skills and to get to know each other better. Another goal is to promote "cross training" of our trainees across the many disciplines involved in our SRP program. Therefore, PIs are encouraged to provide opportunities for these individuals to present their research during the “Lab Meetings.” Presentations this fall will take place on September 22, October 20, November 24, and December 8.
Dr. Jay Goodman, MSU-SRP investigator on Project 1 and the Training Core, received the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology's International Achievement Award this past year. The Society annually presents the award to an outstanding individual in recognition of their contributions and achievements in the resolution of public environmental concerns. There are no specific criteria, no age limitations, however, international scientific developments in toxicology are of special interest

MSU-SRP Community Outreach Activities

The Community Engagement Core of MSU’s SRP has two main objectives. First and foremost is a commitment to help the Tittabawassee River and Saginaw Bay region residents with their understanding of, and collective response to, many years of industrial contamination. The second commitment is to learning. The CEC is comprised of researchers and community specialists who not only study how things are, but also how to improve living and working conditions. They do this with particular expertise in communication, community engagement, responsible development, and environmental sustainability. 

Recently, the CEC team has conducted interviews with residents living along the Tittabawassee River in Segments 2 and 3 of the remediation area to understand their perceptions about contamination and remediation and their affective responses towards the issue. The CEC team has met with the Michigan Department of Community Health and EPA Region 5 to discuss plans for further community engagement activities that both partners can work on together. The CEC and RTC teams are collaborating with the Michigan Department of Community Health to analyze the fish-walker program data and develop an evaluation survey questionnaire for this program. The CEC team is also conducting interviews with people from variance agencies to compose a case study documenting the changes in relationship between the Midland community and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDCH) during the dioxin remediation period in 2012. In addition, the CEC team is working closely with EPA region 5 with a variety of community engagement activities, such as the Mind Trekker Event on Sept. 25-26 at Delta College. 

The MSU-SRP CEC and RTC teams also work closely with the Saginaw-Tittabawassee Rivers Contamination Community Advisory Group (CAG). The CAG serves as the focal point for exchange of information between residents, the Environmental Protection Agency, Dow Chemical, state regulatory agencies, and other federal agencies involved in cleanup of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers. The CAG recently held a meeting on July 20, during which a presentation on institutional control was presented by an EPA official and a Dow representative answered questions about the Tittabawassee Covenant Conservation Program. The MSU CEC team administered a short survey sampling the current CAG members to understand the extent to which the CAG is considered and used as an information channel.

Computational Systems Biology and Dose Response Modeling Short Course a Success

The Institute for Integrative Toxicology hosted an intensive 3 day short course May 11-13, 2015 on Computational Systems Biology and Dose Response Modeling. 

This short course covered current computational modeling techniques for quantitative investigation of how biological systems respond to perturbations at the cellular level. The course consisted of lectures and hands-on computer modeling of:
  • Common network motifs in signal transduction and gene regulatory networks that underlie systems-level cellular behaviors including homeostasis, adaptation, threshold response, binary and irreversible cell fate decisions, and oscillations.
  • How molecular circuits comprising genes and proteins give rise to various dynamic and dose-response behaviors. Examples include cellular stress response, cell differentiation, and cell cycle and checkpoint control, etc.
  • Use of these techniques to develop computational models for understanding and predicting nonlinear dose response behaviors of drugs and environmental toxicants. 
The IIT offered this course through the Research Translation Core within the MSU-SRP. The course instructors were Qiang Zhang and Sudin Bhattacharya from The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, and Rory B. Conolly from the US EPA. 

IIT Seminar Series

As part of the MSU Superfund Training Core, The Institute for Integrative Toxicology is excited to once again host a seminar series this year that will feature experts and students in the field of toxicology.

Upcoming seminars this fall include:
  • Dr. Russell Thomas, Director, National Center for Computational Toxicology, will speak on, "Developing a Roadmap for Integrating Computational and In Vitro Approaches in Risk-Based Chemical Safety Decisions," on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. in 162 Food Safety and Toxicology Building.
  • Dr. Jamie Bernard, Assistant Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology, MSU, will speak on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 12 noon in 162 Food Safety and Toxicology Building.
More speakers will be announced for spring in the coming months. 
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