The need to screen thousands of environmental toxicants and small molecules, on human health has propelled the use of high-throughput cell-based screens to the forefront of toxicology. Yet these studies are limited by the availability of a model organism that recapitulates the development, physiology and disease processes present in humans without the burden of high maintenance costs and extensive husbandry, limited fecundity, lack of genetic diversity and societal opposition that diminish the utility of many rodent-based models currently in use. To overcome some of these limitations, the National Toxicology Program, US Environmental Protection Agency and NC State University coordinated to develop “A collaborative workshop on aquatic vertebrate models and 21st century toxicology.” This workshop will be held May 5-6, 2014 at North Carolina State University.

The purpose of the workshop will be to explore, and discuss how aquatic models may be used to (i) screen and prioritize compounds for further in vivo testing (ii) to assess mechanisms of chemical toxicity and how this knowledge can impact the environment and human health. It is unique among it’s focus on the application of these models for the field of environmental health while leveraging the techniques and knowledge of broad-based, interdisciplinary research.

Despite all the advantages of working with small aquarium fishes, they remain relatively modest contributors to understanding the effects of exposure to environmental contaminants on our health and wellbeing. To rectify this deficiency and to highlight the enormous scientific and economic benefits that can be capitalized by fully incorporating these model organisms into modern toxicological investigations, we propose a workshop that will serve as a forum in which experts in various fields will convene to discuss strategies for leveraging aquatic models to advance understanding of the role of environmental exposures on human health.


The objectives of the workshop are to:

  1. Foster the establishment of networks between toxicologists and basic biomedical scientists using aquatic animal models, in order to facilitate the translation of experimental approaches used in aquatic animal models research into novel toxicant tests, adverse outcome pathway assessments and mode-of-action discovery.
  2. Raise awareness within the toxicology field of the advantages of using aquatic model resources, including availability of genetic and genomic information; transgenic resources; molecular tools; low-cost and ease of maintenance; rapid, external embryonic development; and ability to perform high throughput studies in a vertebrate animal model.
  3. Develop a framework to assist in integrating toxicology data from aquatic models with ongoing in silicoin vitro and in vivo testing initiatives currently underway in order to enhance risk and safety assessments of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
  4. Explore the potential for aquatic model organisms to aid in identifying underlying genetic contributions to human exposure susceptibility and to anchor phenotypic outcomes of exposure to molecular mechanisms of toxicity.
  5. Identify and prioritize future research initiatives using aquatic models to address current information gaps, including improvements in risk and safety assessments for multi-organ toxicity, longitudinal studies to assess long-term consequences of chronic exposures, the embryonic basis of adult disease, and multi-generational effects of exposure to environmental contaminants.