Present environmental policies are based largely on apical endpoints such as death and reproduction, but providing little information on sub-lethal impacts, toxic mechanisms, or synergistic effects. Exposure to low-level contaminant mixtures is the norm rather than the exception. The medical field recently identified environmental exposure as the predominant cause of many neuro-degenerative diseases including links to heavy metals and pesticides, but the exact environmental causes are not yet known. A traditional top down approach, which involves identifying all contaminants, their degradation products, and then assessing toxicities on an individual compound basis is extremely challenging given the complexity of our environment. Conversely, a bottom-up approach that focuses on the organism asks questions such as; is a population stressed? what are the stressor/stressors causing the stress? and which biochemical pathways are impacted?
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is one of the most powerful tools in modern research and can be applied in-vivo. As such the living organism becomes the “ultimate biosensor” responding in real-time to its environment, while the spectrometer interprets the biochemical changes, providing information regarding sub-lethal toxicity. The ultimate goal is to understand and categorize complex stress responses such that, one day, these molecular fingerprints can be used to identify the exact cause of environmental stress in natural organisms (and even humans) permitting improved monitoring, targeted remediation, prevention and policy measures. To our knowledge no other techniques come close to providing such a wealth of molecular information in-vivo. This, along with the fact that scientific questions are becoming increasingly complex and biological relevance is always at the forefront, it is clear the high resolution in-vivo methods developed here will be key to the next generation of scientific research.