Obesogens in a naturally obese animal: An experimental approach to assess the impact of marine pollutants on fat tissue function in seals

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

The ability of organisms to survive and thrive in a changing and increasingly exploited and polluted environment depends on appropriate regulation of energy balance. Growing evidence suggests that exposure to pollutants can alter how fat is stored and used in humans and in other animals. Recent research in humans suggests that many marine pollutants can interfere with the way fat tissue responds to hormonal signals. In particular, pollutants make it difficult to lose weight by switching on pathways that increase fat storage, and this could contribute to problems like diabetes and obesity. Large amounts of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) were made in the early part of the 20th century for use in high capacity electrical conductors and inks, insulators and plastics. Although many POPs are not made anymore because they are very toxic, they are extremely stable and remain in the environment for a long time, ending up in the sea from transport in air and water. Other pollutants, such as phthalates, which are important plasticisers, easily make their way into the sea in run off from urban areas and from marine litter. In particular, POPs do not break down very easily, accumulate in fat and become more concentrated as they are passed up the food chain, ending up in liver and fat. Seals are important top marine predators that have to build up a thick blubber layer while feeding at sea, and then use the fat as a metabolic fuel to keep them alive when they come ashore to breed, moult and rest. They have metabolic similarities to obese and diabetic patients. Their need to rely on fat for fuel and insulation makes them vulnerable to the effects of marine pollutants on the way fat tissue works. The higher the level of POPs in the blubber of seal pups, the lower their chance of survival. Fat tissue like blubber is important for storing fat, releasing it into the bloodstream for use by other parts of the body and producing fat-regulating hormones that control how much fat is stored or used. Recently, the genes of some fat-regulating hormones were shown to be switched on more in blubber of seals from polluted areas in the Baltic Sea than in clean areas in the Arctic, suggesting marine pollutants alter energy balance in seals. However, the mechanisms that control how fat tissue works in seals, and the way marine contaminants interfere with this control, are not well understood. If contaminants can prevent seals from releasing fat from blubber to give them fuel when they are fasting on land, they may have to use more of their protein from muscle tissue instead. This could put them at risk of starvation during moulting, breeding and development, even when they are fat. We will investigate whether pollutants alter fat storage and mobilisation in young grey seals, which are most at risk. We will take small blubber samples from live feeding and fasting seals, without harming them, and treat the blubber with pollutants and fat regulating hormones. We will measure levels of genes and hormones involved in energy balance, the ability of blubber to release fat, and its metabolic rate. By comparing these measures between treatments we will begin to find out how energy balance is normally regulated in seals, how it is altered by marine contaminants, and whether seals are more vulnerable during feeding or fasting. This will help predict the effects of pollutants on seal population size, by contributing a better understanding of how contaminants affect survival of young seals and change their energetic requirements. Because seals naturally experience extreme changes in fat mass, have metabolic similarities to diabetes and obesity, and eat fish, like people do, this work will also inform the likely impacts of POPs and phthalates on human fat regulation. This work has far reaching consequences for health and survivorship in seals and other animals, but also for the management of obesity, diabetes and related metabolic abnormalities in humans.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of our work will be advisors and policy makers in marine protection and prevention of obesity. The outputs will ultimately benefit those with a duty to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and preserve the marine environment against pollution under UN General Assembly resolution 67/70, and those who provide advice to such bodies e.g. the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). This includes ICES Working Groups on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME) and Biological Effects on Contaminants (WGBEC). Our outputs will reach relevant national government departments and advisory bodies including the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS), the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); Marine Scotland Policy and Planning; Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and interest overseas agencies such as Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Canada. They will interest European (Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North West Atlantic (OSPAR) commission) and global (ICES) intergovernmental agencies, who will be able to use the information to interpret seal population "biodiversity" indicators and "clean and safe" contaminant indicators of Good Environmental Status (GES) in the European Marine Framework Strategy Directive (MFSD). The public will benefit from more effective policy and environmental monitoring, which will facilitate Government's commitment to clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. This will indirectly improve quality of life by ensuring sustainable management of marine resources, better policing of legacy and emerging contaminants in marine food webs and maintaining the natural capital of the seas.
Policy makers and advocacy groups targeting the obesity epidemic, particularly those with a duty to prevent and control non-communicable diseases under UN General Assembly resolution 66/2, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), will benefit. The European Association of the Study of Obesity (EASO), and its UK subsidiary, ASO, promote multidisciplinary approaches to obesity research and management, provide a discussion forum and aim to maximise uptake and public benefit of research. Through membership of ASO, we will ensure the outputs are available to EASO, the foremost European scientific and practice-based organisation of professionals in obesity prevention, with formal relations with WHO regional offices and membership of the World Obesity Federation (WOF). Information and advice arising from the project has the potential to influence policy and interventions that would benefit health care providers and advisory groups, such as the National Health Service (NHS), and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). End users, including the UK population, and groups with high dietary contaminant exposure risk will benefit from increased quality of life through advice on obesity prevention, which could have positive economic effects by alleviating strain on health care providers.
Impact through training includes development of technical skills used across disciplines and in public and private sectors. Timely training in media engagement and how science informs policy will have societal impact by increasing the effectiveness of communication by the project team, producing positive effects on public understanding of science and uptake of science into advice to government.
Schools, public outreach, and citizen science organisations will benefit from resources and information we produce and activities such as annual public lectures, visits to schools, participation in Bioblitz and national science events, such as Soapbox Science. Conservation organisations and groups advocating reduced use of plasticisers and other chemicals will find the project useful in identifying where pressure may be needed on Government to address issues of legacy and emerging contaminants on ecosystem and human health.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have successfully set up and used a temporary tissue culture facility in a remote field laboratory to perform explant experiments on blubber tissue from wild seals to better understand their adipose tissue function and its disruption by persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (see Robinson et al 2018). We have refined the approach used in Bennett et al 2017 for standard tissue culture plates rather than closed vials, which allows for more realistic/ comparable gas composition of the media and for greater flexibility in experimental approach.

We have successfully deployed oxygen sensitive planar optodes in a miniature closed system respirometry set-up to monitor tissue viability, energetic responses to experimental treatment and culture contamination in blubber explant experiments, where alternative approaches to viability assessment cannot be used. A manuscript describing this work is in preparation and it was presented at the Society for Experimental Biology conference (2018).

We have shown that blubber glucose uptake rate, lactate production and lipolytic rate are influenced by the nutritional state of the animal and by the region of the blubber that the tissue comes from in grey seal pups (see Robinson et al 2018). In addition, these parameters are affected by the POP concentration in the tissue: blubber glucose uptake is most associated with dioxin-like poly chlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentration irrespective of fed/ fasted state or region of tissue, whereas lipolysis is most affected by the organochlorine pesticide, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its metabolites, and the response depends on whether the tissue comes from fed or fasted animals. Overnight, exogenous PCB treatment increases blubber glucose uptake, which may reflect an acute versus chronic effect; a difference in response to POP cocktails compared with single POP classes, or the possibility that the tissue cannot compensate for POP exposure compared with adaptive mechanisms available at the whole animal level.

Since biochemical analysis revealed that glucose uptake is a target of PCBs, we explored the effect of PCBs on insulin action in explants from suckling/ fasting pups and moulting/ non moulting juveniles by assessing Akt (protein kinase B- a key part of the insulin signalling cascade) activation in response to short term insulin exposure in the presence and absence of Aroclor (a commercial PCB mixture), CB118 and benzyl butyl phthalate (BPP). We have also measured circulating thyroid hormone in the animals from which we obtained blubber biopsies, which show a reduction in response to POPs, and have investigated whether they change with physiological state and are related to blubber function, gene expression and tissue responsiveness to treatment. These data are currently under analysis (objectives 1-3).

We have also shown that many PCB congeners have declined in North Sea grey seals since they were last measured in 2002, in the same age class of grey seal and from the same location. However, DDT and its metabolites show no evidence of a reduction. These findings, in conjunction with the measurable blubber function and thyroid hormone level impacts of current contaminant levels, highlight the ongoing impact of these legacy contaminants on top predators.
Exploitation Route Our explant approach and optode method may be used by those working on wildlife biology or ecotoxicology where whole animal experiments are ethically or logistically challenging or impossible; where sample pairing is needed; where sufficient tissue can be obtained to perform experiments and where there is access to simple laboratory facilities in a field setting. The optode approach may be adopted by others using tissue culture more generally as a means of early detection of media contamination and for assessing tissue viability when standard methods in cell culture cannot work.

Improvements to our method by ourselves and other groups working on animals with significant and tractable adipose depots may allow more efficient use of the limited tissue we can obtain to facilitate an expansion of the range of treatments/ doses/ time points that can be explored to better pinpoint tissue responses and reduce the currently unavoidable 'noise' from differences in explant size and shape.

Our contaminant data are being used by agencies responsible for monitoring the state of UK waters. For example, Marine Scotland are incorporating our work into a case study for the updated Scotland's Marine Atlas - Habitats and Species Assessment 2020. Other regulators and policy makers may incorporate our findings for wider assessments of good environmental status, for example, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).

Our findings may also be used by regulators, policy makers and other scientists as evidence that POPs, and other legacy and emerging contaminants have additional unintended impacts on energy balance. Our findings provide a basis for expanding the range of tests performed to incorporate measures of fat tissue function and energetics to better understand the biological effects of legacy and emerging contaminants or proposed new chemicals on a range of wildlife.

Our findings will be useful in the modelling of the effect of contaminants in conjunction with other stressors on individual energy balance, facilitating assessment of population level consequences of natural and anthropogenic disturbance for seals and other top predator species.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment

 
Description We provided written evidence to the environmental audit committee inquiry on toxic chemicals in everyday life. We have made the inquiry aware of impacts of dioxin like PCBs and DDT on fat tissue function in grey seal pups, which alters their mass change trajectories at key times in their life history. Our evidence shows no or little change in the levels of these POPs in grey seal tissues for over 15 years. We therefore provided some recommendations on chemical regulation and opinion about the effectiveness of the government's strategy at reducing POPs in wildlife. We have contributed a case study on POPs in North Sea grey seals for the upcoming updated Scotland's Marine Atlas, a document/ resource that provides an assessment of the condition of Scotland's seas, and is due for release in June 2020. Our contribution details the slow decline in many PCBs and the lack of a reduction in DDT and its metabolites over the 15 years since these chemicals were last measured in grey seal pups of the same age and at the same location
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Effect of phthalates on insulin signalling in grey seals
Amount £8,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of St Andrews 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 08/2020
 
Description Physiological Society travel grant
Amount £700 (GBP)
Organisation Physiological Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Global
Start 12/2015 
End 12/2015
 
Title Explant development in seals 
Description We have developed and refined the use of adipose tissue explants from seals. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Use of adipose tissue explants replaces animals in whole animal research to investigate local regulation and endocrine disruption of fat tissue. It opens up possibilities for a more experimental approach in this aspect of comparative physiology. 
 
Title Validation of planar optodes in closed system respirometry of adipose tissue explants 
Description This method uses oxygen sensitive planar optodes to monitor oxygen levels in samples. It has been used in ecological monitoring of small organisms and bacterial growth, but to the best of our knowledge has not been used before to investigate oxygen use of explants in medium term culture experiments. We have investigated whether we can monitor oxygen use in fat tissue explants from seals using this technology and how best to apply the technology in this context, with a view to monitor tissue viability and align with other markers of health and function. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None yet 
 
Description Collaboration with Gauthier Eppe's lab at University de Liege 
Organisation University of Liege
Department Department of Chemistry
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our team member Dr Kelly Robinson went to Liege in summer 2015 for 5 weeks and was trained in Gauthier Eppe's lab in the methods to extract persistent organic contaminants from blubber tissue. These data will be used by us in three ways: as covariates to explain changes in metabolic activity and gene expression of explants; to quantify changes in POPs over time by comparing values with those from the same population in previous years; and to investigate associations between POPs and metabolic characteristics.
Collaborator Contribution Gauthier's team trained Kelly in the sample extraction methods and subsequently ran the samples to identify and quantify the congeners present.
Impact This partnership is mutlidisciplinary. The team at Abertay and SMRU are physiologists interested in the toxicological and metabolic effects of contaminants and their ecological consequences. The team in Liege are environmental chemists interested in quantifying POPs in a variety of matrices to monitor their levels in the environment.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Collaboration with Prof Marie-Louise Scippo 
Organisation University of Liege
Department Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provided the juvenile seal blubber samples and biological knowledge of grey seal biology and the previous results from this project, along with the assoicated data about animal mass changes and POP content in blubber
Collaborator Contribution Marie-Louise Scippo and her PhD student ,Que Doan, extracted POPs from the blubber and used the extract to investigate AhR, estrogenic and androgenic antogonism and agonism in our samples using a CALUX assay in rat cells. The results of this work were presented at the Dioxin conference in Kyoto in August 2019 and will form part of a manuscript showing estrogenic activity in the absence of significant AhR activation in these samples.
Impact The results of this work were presented at the Dioxin conference in Kyoto in August 2019 (Rat aryl hydrocarbon receptor (rAHR) and human estrogen receptor (hER) agonistic activity of blubber sampled from pre-moult and post-moult North Sea Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus)) and will form part of a manuscript showing estrogenic activity in the absence of significant AhR activation in these samples.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Contaminant analysis collaboration with Dr C Debier 
Organisation Catholic University of Louvain
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Discussion of use of explants as an appropriate in vitro model in seals and the potential use in agricultural animals such as pigs. Discussion of methodology for explant preparation and use of closed system respirometry method for monitoring tissue health and responses.
Collaborator Contribution Arrangement of contaminant analysis by additional Belgian partners to occur later in the year; advice on best practice for sample collection and storage for sample contaminant analysis; advice on range of contaminants to analyse; sharing ideas on use of tissue viability markers; sharing methodological development and technical issues for possible use of tissue slices and isolated adipocytes.
Impact Strategy for sample analysis; Invited seminar about obesogens and current project at Universite Catholique de Louvain
Start Year 2014
 
Description BBC coverage 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Scotland covered our work on radio and on the news, including an interview. This was also picked up by BBC raio 4 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0001mnv). After this, several organisations have been in touch to ask for further information and investigate possible further work eg fish farmers have asked about impacts of use of ivormectin and other compounds used in aquaculture. Other media outlets also picked up on the story, which I have reported separately.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-46608225/seal-pups-across-the-uk-are-at-risk-from-toxic-ch...
 
Description BSA talk 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an invited talk for the Tayside and Fife regional branch of the British Science Association entitled 'Seals as sentinels of ocean health: understanding the harmful effects of plastic, POPs and pills'. The audience consisted of ~ 80 people including primary school children up to retirees. The level of discussion and engagement, particularly by the children, afterwards was extraordinary and led to a lively debate about environmental protection and politcs. This talk has led to an invitation to go into a local school to give a talk and help with a project on marine pollution. It has also led to an invitation to be a member of the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership- Marine and Coastal Group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.britishscienceassociation-taysidefife.org/lectures/
 
Description Blog for BBC Autumnwatch: Grey seals pups are having to deal with chemicals produced as a result of industry 10.12.2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote a blog for BBC Autumnwatch about our work to understand how seals energy balance is altered by pollutants. This reached followers of Autumnwatch blogs and was timed to coincide with Blue Planet 2 to reach a much wider BBC audience. It reached @PHATSAbertay followers on Twitter (~700), followers of the BBC Autumnwatch account and subsequent retweets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/natureuk/entries/4399bf8f-85d9-4424-921f-aefa531c9723
 
Description Blog for The female Scientist: How do seals regulate their fat stores? 30. 8.2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote a contribution to the Female Scientist about our project including the contrast with humans in fat regulation, how we can investigate fat regulation in seals, the challenges involved, and the explant approach we use. This has been tweeted by myself (~700 followers) and by @ScientistFemale which has >3000 followers. An author has also contacted me about writing a book on grey seals and wanted to more about this project as a result of the Blog.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://thefemalescientist.com/research/kimberley-bennett/1477/how-do-seals-regulate-their-fat-store...
 
Description Cafe Science Dundee: How is pollution affecting Scottish seals ? 9th October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a talk to a capacity room (I believe ~70 people), using props but no powerpoint, on pollution effects on seals, including some of our evidence from this project that glucose uptake is influenced. This led to a lively question and answer session about the role of pollution and what we can do to minimise it and mitigate its effects both personally and more widely. Several people came to me afterwards to discuss individual points, as well as career options, the value of chemistry and engineering in the solutions etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.skiddle.com/whats-on/Dundee/Avery-And-Co/Caf-Science-Dundee-How-is-Pollution-affecting-S...
 
Description Dundee University Museums Collection public talk series: Fitness and fatness in Seals and Humans. D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, Dundee, UK, Dec 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact KB gave a talk at Dundee University Museums Collection in their public talk series, entitled Fitness and fatness in Seals and Humans. We explored why being fat is so important to seals, what we know about how they regulate fatness compared with humans, how pollutants can influence body fat control in both seals and humans and the potential consequences for human and animal health. The talk initiated lots of questions about general seal physiology, comparisons with human obesity and issues related to avoiding contaminants in food. It also led to invites to give additional talks elsewhere in the local area
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.abertay.ac.uk/research/research-projects/phats/news/name,33241,en.php
 
Description Dundee primary school science week 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We visited Fintry primary where we ran a series of activities for 3 classes of 30 pupils on each of 2 days. The activities allowed them to explore what it is like to be a seal physiologist, and investigate blubber physiology and its importance for animal health. Children went away with an activity we had made. At the end of the circus of activities the children were given time to ask us all kinds of questions about the work we do and what it like to be a seal biologist. The staff were pleased that the pupils were able to experience some simple science related activities, including hands on with a microscope, spotting things through binoculars and meeting a real scientist, which they would not otherwise get to do. One important outcome was giving pupils some insight into the sorts of careers that are possible and a 'behind the scenes' view of wildlife biology for pupils who live in a relatively deprived area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Dundee science festival 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We participated in the Voyage to the unknown event and the roadshow at Ardler community centre as part of the Dundee Science festival. Our activity involved children playing a fishing game that helped them learn about the need for seals to catch fish to get fat, but the dangers they face when the fish contain pollutants. The activity taught them about accumulation of chemicals in the environment and magnification up the food chain. Children as young as 2 up to grandparents enjoyed the game and asked for more information about the topic and asked what they could do to make a difference. Over 100 children played the game and we estimate up to 200 people overall visited the stand and talked to us about the work and the impact of pollutants on ocean life. Many of the audience were already very engaged about reducing plastics pollution and many reported they hadn't realised how other pollutants could be equally or more problematic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk/dundee-science-festival/dsf-home/
 
Description Edinburgh science festival 2019: one fish two fish, red fish polluted fish activity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We had a stall at the Edinburgh science festival where more than 100 children over the course of two days were able to play the pollution fishing game and we were able to engage both the children and their parents in conversations about the nature and source of pollutants in the marine environment and the problems this can cause for top predators like seals, as well as potential for human health effects. We had several GPs ask more about human implications in relation to diabetes and obesity. One of the visitors was a researcher at the Queens Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh working on human fat tissue, who was interested in the work we are doing. As a direct result of that conversation we now have an active collabiration with his group and Lothian Health Board's tissue bank in which we are exploring comparative aspects of adipose structure and physiology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Environmental Analytical Chemistry symposium, Dundee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a talk at the Royal Society sponsored Scottish Environmental Analytical Chemistry meeting. Approximately 50 people attended, who were primarily environmental chemists and representatives from Marine Scotland. This meeting instigated a number of useful collaborations, including with groups who can analyse a wider range of POPs and also trace metal toxins.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.abertay.ac.uk/research/research-projects/phats/news/name,33242,en.php
 
Description Guest seminar: Division of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Dundee. April 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk entitled Seals as models for obesity: insights and challenges from the champions of fat deposition. Intended to reach those working in medical science, both as researchers and clinicians. ~30 people attended and this initiated interesting discussions with people engaged in human diabetes and obesity research, and instigated conversations about future collaborations. Ongoing contact and fruitful discussions with a number of researchers (eg Calum Sutherland) has been maintained.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited Seminar Speaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This invited lunchtime seminar to the University of Brunel postgraduate researchers led to increased awareness of this study among environmental scientists with interests in the impact of contaminants on human health. This gorup would not necessarily be aware of research in our field so it was a good opportunity to inform peer groups of the aims and objectives of the study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Invited plenary talk at UK and Ireland chapter for Society of Marine Mammalogy: Seals as models for obesity: insights and challenges from champions of fat deposition Jan 19th 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to give a talk to the students at the UK IRSC. ~50 students attended. After the talk several students asked for more information and asked about opportunities to participate in the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://synergy.st-andrews.ac.uk/ukrsc/files/2016/09/UKIRSC-2017-TIMETABLE-and-ABSTRACT-BOOKLET.pdf
 
Description Invited public talk: Probus club Broughty Ferry 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact KAB gave a talk on physiology of seals and how pollutants affect energy balance regulation to Probus club members, who are retired professionals. The talk provoked interesting discussion on preventing pollution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited public talk: Probus club Carnoustie 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact KAB gave a talk on physiology of seals and how pollutants affect energy balance regulation to Probus club members, who are retired professionals. The talk provoked interesting discussion on preventing pollution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited talk at Perth Natural Sciences Society Curious Minds series: The Remarkable Physiology of the Seal, AK Bell library, Perth. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave an hour talk on the physiology of seals in relation to fasting, energy balance and diving to ~60 people drawn from the local Natural Science Society. There was an extensive question and answer session afterwards and various members of the audience came to me with comments afterwards about ' I had no idea that....'. The orgaiser afterwards has approached me about being involved in further activities with this group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.perthcity.co.uk/event/curious-minds-remarkable-physiology-seal/
 
Description Invited talk: 2nd International Conference on Clinical Sciences and Drug Discovery. University of Dundee. July 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk: 2nd International Conference on Clinical Sciences and Drug Discovery. This was a talk to a group of scientists working in clinical science and industry. It initiated many questions and conversations about the need for next generation approaches. We made key international contacts for future work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.abertay.ac.uk/research/research-projects/phats/news/name,31429,en.php
 
Description Invited talk: Estuarine and Coastal Science Association, Forth and Tay focus group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ECSA invited KAB to give a talk on POP levels in Forth and Tay grey seals. This stimulated interesting discussion about the need to indentify biological effects as well monitor levels, and provided opportunity for dialogue with scientists from Marine Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://ecsa.international/sites/default/files/docs-event/2019/abstractbook_bulletin_final.pdf
 
Description Isle of May NNR family fun day 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We took our pollution game to the Isle of May to engage families with the idea that pollutants can bioaccumulate and have negative effects on seals. We also wanted to show support for the SNH who provide us with the permit to do the work on the Isle of May so they can showcase some of the research that they facilitate. It also provides us with an opportunity to discuss the science 'after hours' with the bird researchers who work on the same nature reserve in the summer months and have similar top predator questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/family-fun-day/
 
Description KAB talk at World Marine Mammal Conference 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact KAB gave a talk: Energy balance consequences of POP exposure in grey seals: linking in vitro experiments with whole animal mass change trajectories. The audience asked questions about our predicted impacts through different mechanisms and from different POP classes. This conference faciliated discussions with other SMRU colleagues and researchers working on polar bears about possible extensions to the work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.wmmconference.org/
 
Description KJR talk SEB Sevlle 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact KJR gave a talk: Energy balance effects of persistent organic pollutants: experimental exposure to PCBs alters blubber glucose uptake sensitivity to T3 in vitro. After the session the organiser approached KAB to write a review in the topic for Biology Letters
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.sebiology.org/events/event/seb-seville-2019/programme/animal-biology#animalenergy
 
Description Kelly Robinson's Blog about our project, including the field and lab elements 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Kelly Robinson, the postdoctoral RA on this grant, write a regular blog talking about the work we are doing for this project. It routinely reaches her regular audience of ~50 people, and traffic to the site is increased by tweets from @PHATSAbertay (~700 followers) @SteeleySeabirder (~7500 followers), the warden on the Isle of May, and @SMRU_ (~1600) followers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://kellyrobinsonscience.wordpress.com/author/kjrscience/
 
Description MASTS 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a talk in the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland annual meeting: Multiple stressors section, entitled 'Impacts of natural and anthropogenic stressors on fat tissue function in marine mammals: effects of feeding, fasting and contaminant exposure'. The talk was to ~100 delegtaes froma range of background and prompted questions about the soirce of the pollutants. Afterwards discussions with colleagues from SMASS led to plans for further research activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.masts.ac.uk/annual-science-meeting/
 
Description MLS talk at Dioxin conference 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact MLS presented a talk called Rat aryl hydrocarbon receptor (rAHR) and human estrogen receptor (hER) agonistic activity of blubber sampled from pre-moult and post-moult
North Sea Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.dioxin2019.org/scientific.html
 
Description Masters in Marine Mammal Science 2018 and 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This talk was to engage current masters students with the physiology of energy balance in marine mammals, impacts of contaminants and the challenges of working in this field. The discussion afterwards with the ~20 participants in each year showed they were keen to find out more about the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Oral presentation: 22nd Biennial conference on the biology of marine mammals, Halifax, Nova Scotia. October 22nd-27th 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kelly Robinson delivered a talk on our work: An explant approach to understand adipose tissue function; metabolic profiles of blubber tissue differs between tissue depth, cell culture conditions and energetic state to an audience of marine mammal biologists and conservation workers, policy makers, students and academics. ~150 people attended the talk and asked questions immediately afterwards about the contaminant effects reported. Later on, we were approached by other academics for further information and expressing an interest in collaborative work. This has been followed up by opportunities to collaborate and circulation of grant calls of interest in the USA.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.smmconference.org/scientificprogram
 
Description Pint of Science Dundee: Healthy planet, healthy me 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact KAB was one of 3 speakers presenting on One Health ideas and discussing this with an audience of general public. People were concerned about the persistence of some chemicals in the food chain
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Poster presentation: 22nd Biennial conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Halifax, Nova Scotia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster entitled: Accurate and precise measures of blood glucose from fasted grey seal pups using a hand held glucometer: implications for rapid health assessment and glucose tolerance tests in the field. This poster was intended to present our work on trying to get rapid glucose measurements from seals without the contingent problems of sample processing and storage that can alter the results. From our point of view, this method would avid several weeks' of lab work and save storage space for plasma. ~15 people from different international organisations sought me out at the poster event to find out more. A great deal of interest in the development of a rapid and user friendly tool that requires minimum blood sample was shown by people involved in rehabilitation and in conservation of endangered species - an audience I had not thought would be the primary interest group. This had led to fruitful conversations about the development of this method for purposes outside research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.smmconference.org/scientificprogram
 
Description Press release 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A press release was issued as follows:

Baby seals at risk from toxic chemicals in mothers' milk: Baby seals around the UK coast are at risk from toxic chemicals present in their mothers' milk, new research has found

Long-lasting chemicals from man-made contaminants have been recognised as harmful to wildlife since the 1970s, with marine mammals facing the biggest threat because they feed at the top of the food chain.

A substance ban designed to stop the damage has been in force since the early 2000s and helped reduce the levels of these chemicals, which enter the environment from the likes of paints, sealants, industrial lubricants, electrical transformers and pesticides.

However a new study, led by Abertay University, in partnership with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews and colleagues in Belgium, has now shown that ban may not go far enough to protect wildlife.

The team found that the chemicals - known as PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) - can interfere with the way seal blubber tissue works, even at low exposure levels, potentially altering the way pups gain fat vital to their survival.

Part of the so-called "dirty dozen" marine pollutants, these chemicals are banned from production and release into UK waters under the Stockholm Convention, but still make their way into the sea through incineration, effluent and landfill, and can travel a long way from where they were released.
Conducted on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, the study focussed on grey seal pups in their first weeks of life.

Principal investigator, Dr Kimberley Bennett of Abertay University, is concerned that even the relatively low levels found in this study can harm marine mammals in unexpected ways.

She said the chemicals have been locked in the ecosystem, with mother seals accumulating them from fish and passing on the harmful effects to their young through their milk.

"We've known for a long time that high levels of these chemicals are very dangerous and can hamper reproduction and immunity in marine mammals," Dr Bennett said.

"They may even drive some populations towards extinction.

"Efforts to reduce levels in the environment have been successful. But our new research shows that blubber, which is a vital for seals and whales, could be vulnerable to harmful effects of PCBs and DDT at levels much lower than previously thought."

Co-investigators Dr Kelly Robinson and Prof Ailsa Hall of the University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit added: "We have already shown that these chemicals can reduce the likelihood that a seal pup will survive to its first birthday.

"We've now discovered why this is the case and how these toxins add to the seals' burden of potential health effects."

The research is published here https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b04240

As a result articles appeared (somewhat distorted in the actual facts) in the following news outlets:
BBC (Reporting Scotland Radio Scotland, Radio 4, website)
Mail Online
The Times
Independent
Evening Times
Edinburgh Evening News
The herald scotland
The National
The Yorkshire Post
The Scotsman
The Herald
East Anglian Daily Times
Western Morning News
Eastern Daily Press
The Irish News
The London Economic
Press and Journal
The Express & Star
Shropshire Star
The Courier
Evening Express
Belfast Telegraph
Scotsman
Yahoo! News (UK)
AOL
Evening Telegraph
Edinburgh Evening News
La Vanguardia

I was also interviewed by TayFM, which was included in their news bulletin. Outcomes from wide but shortlived coverage are somewhat diffuse but it has overall raised the profile of the research and the university.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.abertay.ac.uk/news/2018/baby-seals-at-risk-from-chemicals-in-mothers-milk/
 
Description Probus club Monifieth 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk ' Obesogens in the ocean: how pollutants can affect body fatness in seals, and why that matters for humans too' to members of the local Probus club. The audience were engaged and interested and somewhat dauntingly contained the ex- scientific advisor to Margaret Thatcher. The audience wanted lots more information and the disucssion was in depth and included ways to solve the wider issue of marine pollution. This talk has prompted other invitations to talk at other organisations including the British Science Association and Pint of Science events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Approximately 100 people attended this lecture at St Abbs Marine Station which resulted in many questions and discussion afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SCOS science day 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact ~100 people attended the SCOS science day where we presented our work investigating the impact of environmental pollutants on energy balance in seals, entitled ' obesogens in seals'. The discussion that followed involved a range of people, including those ion the SCOS panel in relation to current regulation of chemicals and what can be done to help reduce levels further. Audience reported that they had never heard the term obesogen before and now understood more about the sublethal effects of environmental contaminants
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SEB Florence talk 2018 HA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We attended SEB Florence in 2018 and presented a talk entitled 'Pollutantn exposure affects expression of cellular defence, not metabolic genes, in seal blubber explants, despite altered metabolic properties'. The talk sparked interest and discussion with audience members (~60 people) .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sebiology.org/docs/default-source/Event-documents/animal-biology-abstracts.pdf?sfvrsn=2
 
Description SEB Florence talk 2018 KAB 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We attended SEB Florence and presented a talk in the Animal Biology section: Explant experiments show metabolic characteristics of blubber from grey seal pups differ by tissue depth, nutritional state and pollutant exposure. The audience consisted of ~60 people and the talk provked interest and questions about the method and the findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sebiology.org/docs/default-source/Event-documents/animal-biology-abstracts.pdf?sfvrsn=2
 
Description SEB Florence talk 2018 KJR 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Society for Experimental Biology conference oral presentation 2018: Closed system respirometry in explant culture using planar optodes; seal blubber oxygen consumption differs with tissue depth and nutritional state. Questions and discussion arose with other academics about the utility of oxygen consumption as a method to assess metabolism and viability in difficult tissues or samples.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sebiology.org/docs/default-source/Event-documents/animal-biology-abstracts.pdf?sfvrsn=2
 
Description SEB Seville 2019 HCA talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact HCA gave a talk No change in tissue metabolic properties of adipose explants in moulting juvenile grey seals exposed to PCBs and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). Since this talk was one of 4 all on grey seals, KAB was approached by the organiser to write a review, now udnerway
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.sebiology.org/events/event/seb-seville-2019/programme/animal-biology#animalenergy
 
Description SEB Seville 2019 KAB talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact KAB gave a talk: Can contaminants alter energy balance? Linking in vitro experiments with mass change trajectories in wild grey seals. After this session KAB was asked to write a review on the topic, which is now underway
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.sebiology.org/events/event/seb-seville-2019/programme
 
Description SEB main meeting July 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kimberley Bennett gave a pecha kucha and poster entitled Circulating polychlorinated biphenyls are associated with altered plasma adiponectin levels in grey seal pups. She presented preliminary data on an association between adiponectin and blood POP levels in a small sample of grey seal pups. This presentation generated interest from scientists from the US and Australia who had not previously encountered the concept that pollutants can modify energy balance in wildlife. It resulted in encouragement by the conservation physioogy session organisers to present our experimental findings at the next SEB meeting in July of 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.sebiology.org/docs/default-source/Event-documents/cross-disciplinary-abstracts.pdf
 
Description SETAC poster presentation 1 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We attended the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Rome and presented a poster: Intrinsic and extrinsic persistent organic pollutants affect metabolic profiles of blubber from grey seal pups: in vitro experiments in a wild species with high tissue pollutant loads. The impact on the research team was to increase contact with and awareness of the ecotoxicology and environmental regulation sector. as a direct result of this poster we have an emerging collaboration with another group in Liege who are running our samples in their promoter assays to assess AhR and ER activity of the tissue extracts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://rome.setac.org/
 
Description SETAC poster presentation 2018 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We attended the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Rome and presented a poster entitled: Temporal trends in persistent organic pollutant concentrations in weaned grey seal pups, a sentinel species for marine contaminants: 2015 compared to 2002. The impact on the research team was to increase contact with and awareness of the ecotoxicology and environmental regulation sector. We also developed several contacts with other researchers and those involved in government regulation/ evaluation of chemical impacts. As a direct result of this poster we have an emerging collaboration with another group in Liege who are running our samples in their promoter assays to assess AhR and ER activity of the tissue extracts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://meetings.setac.org/frontend.php/presentation/listForPublic
 
Description Scottish Natural Heritage 'seals weekend', Isle of May, Firth of Forth, UK, October 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We participated in a 2 day weekend event showcasing how seals are able to gain weight and lose it quickly, require fat for survival and are 'canaries in the mine' for contaminant effects on energy balance regulation. We had discussions with members of the public, showed them the seal colony, answered lots of questions about their life history, general seal biology and ecology, the importance of long terms data sets, seal physiology and anatomy and the research we are doing on this project. We took along fliers, a seal skeleton, images to show on a loop, and participated in the show and tell where members of the public used a spotting scope to see newly arrived seals on the colony. We also gave a talk and fielded questions on the boat on the way to and from the island. This event helped us maintain our working relationship with the crew of the May Princess, who help with our logistics during our field season, and with SNH who provide the permits for the work on the NNR, as well as discuss our project with members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.abertay.ac.uk/research/research-projects/phats/news/name,33235,en.php
 
Description Scottish Natural Heritage seals weekend 2018 and 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact SNH run an annual 'seals weekend' visit to the Isle of May. In each year KAB gave a talk to the passengers aboard the May princess about seal biology and the work we are doing on contaminant exposure. On the island we set up a stand to allow people to explore a seal skeleton and play our pollution accumulation game. There were ~60 people on board on each day in each year who heard the talk and some came to ask for more information afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Scottish Natural Heritage seals weekend, Isle of May, Firth of Forth, October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I went out to the Isle of May on board the May Princess as 'tour guide and expert' for the SNH's annual seals weekend, when the first animals have arrived on the island to breed in early October. I gave a talk on the boat on the way out about seal biology and our project. On the island I gave a talk about what life is like on the island for a seal researcher and gave more information on the project. Finally, I was stationed at one of the observation sites to field questions about the seals and their biology. About 50 people attended, some of whom were masters' students at St Andrews University. I was asked lots of questions both on the island and on the return trip.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.snhpresscentre.com/news/seals-take-the-stage-on-the-isle-of-may
 
Description Talk at Durham University Biosciences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This was an invited talk at Durham University Biosciences department as part of their external seminar series. Mostly undergraduate and postgraduate students attended with some academic staff, Lively discussion followed the talk, not just about the topic itself but about the ability to bring lab science to the field and requests for career progression advice from students who want to work on projects involving both lab and field science. Members of the audience said that they hadn't thought about how pollutants can affect energy balance and it triggered interesting discussions about the interface between this project and work underway at Durham.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description World Biodiscovery Congress 2018 plenary session 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited plenary session entitled Comparative physiology in biodiscovery: what can we learn from natural experts in breath hold diving and fat metabolism?. Talk triggered interest from a range of delegates from industry interested in measurements in unusual animal models, including those in molecular biology, RAMAN spectroscopy and 'omics approaches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.biodiscoverycongress.com/