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 second edition of our electronic newsletter. Please take a moment to read over our latest successes and achievements!  

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

In This Newsletter:

Dearing Joins MSU Superfund Program as New CEC Core Leader
Research Spotlight: Gerben J. Zylstra, Ph.D.
Journal Club Ready for Fall
MSU Superfund Program Outreach Efforts
Student Awardee, Peter Dornbos
Introduction to Physicologically Based Pharmacokinetic (PBPK) Modeling Short Course a Success
Recent Publications
James W. Dearing, Ph.D., Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Communication at Michigan State University has joined the MSU Superfund Program as the new Community Engagement Core Leader.

Dearing Joins MSU Superfund Program as New CEC Core Leader

The Michigan State University Superfund Research Program is proud to announce James W. Dearing, Ph.D., as the new Community Engagement Core Leader. 

Dearing (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Communication at Michigan State University. Recently he was Senior Scientist for Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit healthcare provider in the United States. Dearing is Principal Investigator of the Cancer Communication Research Center, a U.S. National Cancer Institute Center of Excellence ( Previously, he was on the faculty of Ohio University, Michigan State University, and visiting faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. Dearing studied at Waseda University in Japan and has conducted research and evaluations in multiple countries. 

Dr. Dearing specializes in the diffusion of innovations, and the use of diffusion principles to disseminate and effectively implement and sustain worthy innovations. He works and speaks frequently with research and policy groups to accelerate the spread of evidence-based practices, programs, policies, and technologies, and to measure diffusion.

Dearing has led projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and U.S. federal agencies including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute. Recently he has worked on studies about healthcare delivery improvement, cancer care coordination and communication, lifestyle physical activity, pediatric care, university-community knowledge transfer, science teaching and learning, work-family balance in corporate settings, and alcohol and substance abuse innovations. 

Dearing will lead the Community Engagement Core of MSU’s SRP towards 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. The MSU Superfund team is excited to work with Dearing. 

Research Spotlight

Gerben J. Zylstra, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Dr. Timothy Zacharewski, Ph.D., MSU
Dr. Gerben Zylstra, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University, is PI for Project 5 of the MSU Superfund Research Program: Molecular Insight into Dioxin Degradation by Microbes and Microbial Communities.

Chlorinated organic chemicals, such as dioxin and dioxin like compounds (DLC), are highly resistant to natural degradation and can bioaccumulate, thus pose significant environmental hazards to humans and wildlife.  Michigan State University Superfund Research Program (MSU-SRP) center’s research and support cores are all actively addressing the toxicity and environmental fate of these compounds.  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 National Priority List for high levels of dioxin and DLCs, thus affording the MSU-SRP center unique opportunities to study the toxicity and environmental fate of these compounds.  Project 5, led by Dr. Gerben Zylstra, is focusing their research on determining the molecular mechanisms of microbial degradation and environmental determinants controlling this process.
The ability of microbes to metabolize dioxin is an enigma.  Dioxin is naturally formed during combustion processes like forest or prairie fires.  Dioxin is also formed through industrial processes.  Despite the fact that dioxin is present in numerous environments, only a few microbes are known to completely mineralize dioxin.  Conversely, many different microbes are known for their ability to mineralize the related compound dibenzofuran.  Aerobic microorganisms metabolize dioxin through a so-called angular dioxygenase pathway with the two ring compound trihydroxybiphenyl ether as the first intermediate.  Degradation continues through removal and mineralization of one aromatic ring and then metabolism and mineralization of the second aromatic ring.
Investigations in Project 5 with pure cultures and microbial communities are designed to understand why the ability to degrade dioxin has not evolved more often.  In collaboration between Michigan State University and Rutgers researchers, they are studying microbes from around the world, especially those derived from Superfund Sites in both New Jersey and Michigan: the Passaic River and the Tittabawassee-Saginaw River watershed.  They have discovered how microorganisms physiologically respond to the toxic compound dioxin.  They have also discovered new organisms and deciphered their ability to degrade dioxin and dioxin-like compounds.  Their studies illustrate that dioxin degradation is a complicated process, involving many different host factors in addition to the catabolic pathway enzymes.  In natural environments this catabolic activity is often mediated by microorganisms working together.

Dr. Gerben Zylstra collects a river sample. 

As noted above, Michigan has a highly contaminated watershed system which has significantly affected adjacent communities, in particular the cities of Midland and Saginaw.  The MSU-SRP has been conducting engagement projects with these communities, of which Project 5 is now actively involved in one of these projects.  Projects 4 and 5, and the Research and Community Engagement Cores are cooperatively working with the teachers and students of Midland High School to do a field project looking for 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 microorganisms degrade dioxin and DLCs.  This information should contribute to more accurate models for determining the environmental fate, and development of site specific microbial-based remediation strategies for this class of compounds in natural systems such as the Passaic River and the Tittabawassee-Saginaw River watersheds.
Rance Nault, MSU graduate student, led the first MSU Journal Club session of the year on September 30, 2014.

Journal Club Ready for Fall

The Training Core of the MSU Superfund program is excited to announce the dates for the fall session of the Journal Club. 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. 

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 is the think-pair-share-create paradigm (DeHann, 2011). Presenters are mindful that their audience members are not all specialists in the same field and, therefore, they provide appropriate background information. Participants are thus taken out of their comfort zones and forced to extend their knowledge in new directions.

These Journal Club sessions have been beneficial to the Superfund program because they promote cohesion among the participating faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. All participants link by video conference to participate with colleagues from Rutgers, Purdue, The Hamner Institutes and Texas A&M. This fall there will be four Journal Club events on September 30, October 21, November 11, and December 9. 

Journal Club sessions are open to all Superfund Centers who wish to participate. For information about how to virtually join a Journal Club session, please email Brad Upham,, for more information. 
MSU EITS graduate student, Peter Dornbos, working with Superfund investigators, Dr. John LaPres and Dr. Norbert Kaminski, received the Best Poster Presentation Award in the Biomedical category at the recent Superfund Annual Meeting. His presentation was titled, "The Effects of Genetic Variability on the Shape of a Dose-Response Curve: 2,3,7,8 Tetrachlorodibenzo-ρ-dioxin (TCDD) Induced Suppression of CD40L-Activated Human Primary B Cells."

MSU Superfund Program Outreach Efforts

Dr. Brad Upham from the MSU Superfund program gave presentations to four science classes (AP chemistry and AP biology) at Midland High on May 16, 2014. The presentations involved an introduction to environmental health with a 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. The presentation also included an introduction to fish advisories, and access to the State of Michigan's database on levels of contaminants in fish, and the use of Excel to evaluate these data sets. As a follow-up to this lecture, the Midland High teachers led hands-on lessons where students accessed the fish contaminant databases of the State of Michigan. This database was used to help students formulate hypotheses, and answer these hypotheses using actual data sets. They learned how to use spread sheets to organize data, computational modifications, statistical analyses, and data presentations (graphs and tables). 

Prior to the presentation by Dr. Upham, the MSU Superfund program completed an informational resource packet for the teachers at Midland High that included slides for lectures, background information, activity modules for environmental health concerning the contamination problems of their local community, and relevant links to Michigan's Departments of Environmental Quality and Community Health resources.

A follow-up meeting with the teachers indicated a lot of enthusiasm by the students and plans were made to continue and expand in these educational activities on environmental health sciences. Future plans include forming a student group on “Environmental Health,” assisting in a student-led town-hall meeting, a science café on environmental issues, and initiating a citizen science project. The citizen science project will involve students and the community to identify microorganisms that biodegrade chlorinated organic chemicals using a field-portable gene analyzer developed by Dr. Syed Hashsham. The genomic library for the portable gene analyzer will be developed by Dr. Gerben Zylstra. 

Introduction to Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic (PBPK) Modeling Short Course a Success

The Center for Integrative Toxicology hosted an intensive 3 day short course (May 20-22, 2014) titled "Introduction to Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic (PBPK) Modeling". The course was attended by over 20 participants including EITS students as well as by industry and government toxicologists. 

During the short course, participants learned the principles of physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modeling and were introduced to the application of this technique in chemical health risk assessment and drug development. At the conclusion of the course participants were able to: 
  • Understand the fundamental concepts underlying PBPK modeling
  • Describe the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination of chemicals using mass balance differential equations
  • Build PBPK models to simulate tissue dosimetry using Berkely Madonna®
  • Appreciate the application of PBPK models in human health risk/safety assessment and drug development. 
The course comprised lectures and hands-on computer simulation exercises. 

The CIT offered this course through the Research Translation Core within its NIH Superfund Research Program Center grant. The course instructors (at left) were Qiang Zhang, Sudin Bhattacharya, Miyoung Yoon, and Alina Efremenko from The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, and Rory B. Conolly from the US EPA. 

Recent Publications

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