Examining Gene Expression of the Vertebrate Female Reproductive System: Possible Effects of Pollution on Hormonal Balance

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Emily Schmitt

Second Advisor

Edward Keith


Vertebrate female reproductive strategies vary greatly and are controlled by a complex interaction of genes and hormones. Scientists have recently developed microarray technology enabling the analysis of expression patterns for thousands of genes simultaneously. This tool has been utilized to allow scientists a greater understanding of the hormonal and genetic processes involved in controlling female reproduction. This research generated a better understanding of the reproductive process, allowing for comparative studies on the effects of external impacts, such as those from pollutants.

Over the past few decades it has been discovered that a number of synthetic chemicals and naturally occurring compounds released into the environment can influence endocrine system function, including the reproductive system. These endocrine disrupting contaminants (EDCs) are highly varied in structure and mode of action, but there is a lack of knowledge as to their sources, true concentrations, and physiological effects. Investigation into the full extent of EDC impact on the environment and natural populations is hampered by their diversity, and currently it is unsure which, if any, may exhibit individual as well as synergistic effects. There are currently no effective and standardized tests to accurately detect the presence of EDCs in the environment. Additionally, the complexity of the reproductive and endocrine systems of exposed organisms makes the extent of effect difficult to elucidate. Limited epidemiological and laboratory studies on women and some animals support the hypothesis that EDCs impair female reproduction. It is possible that exposure in natural populations could have extreme effects.

Many methods have been proposed to assess the presence and effects of EDCs, but have been unsatisfactory because of their limited results, and failure to provide any mechanistic information. Results from rapid screening tests are difficult to correlate with the response of the whole organism. Therefore, microarray technology has tremendous possibilities for screening for the effects of EDCs on reproduction. This capstone examines the use of microarrays and other current genetic technology to investigate expression of genes involved in female reproduction, and specifically with respect to the effects of EDCs on vertebrate female reproduction in humans, experimental rodents, and marine vertebrates.

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