• Determining the immune status of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus): an environmental agents of disease perspective

      Kennedy, Stephanie Nichole; O'Hara, Todd; Ferrante, Andrea; Kuhn, Thomas; Trainor, Thomas; Rea, Lorrie (2019-05)
      The integrity of the immune system is paramount for preserving overall health for many organisms. Investigating environmental and physiological factors that may be associated with alterations of the immune status in non-traditional sentinel species, like the Steller sea lion (SSL), is a prominent undertaking in eco-immunology research. Changes to immune homeostasis likely impacts the health and survival of SSLs. Recent studies have reported that mercury concentrations in hair in 24 to 36% of newborn SSLs of the Western Aleutian Islands (WAI) exceed thresholds (>30 ppm) for potential adverse effects. Many of these individuals were from WAI rookeries that have historically experienced significant population declines with some slow to recover. Retrospective, and ongoing, analyses of mercury in lanugo coats (natal hair) from young pups of the WAI demonstrate in utero exposure to relatively high levels of mercury during late gestation. Therefore, this dissertation focuses on the notion that dietary acquired mercury could potentially alter immune response in SSLs, especially young pups, and may contribute to the lack of recovery from population declines. In order to gain an understanding of the potential for mercury to adversely affect the immune response of SSLs, selected aspects of immunity were measured (blood cell counts, haptoglobin, immunoglobulins, and cytokines) and investigated within the context of body condition, age, mercury exposure and regional population dynamics. In Chapter Two, the acute phase response protein, haptoglobin, was found to vary significantly with age and region. Individual SSL pups with greater concentrations of mercury had lower predicted concentrations of haptoglobin. In Chapter Three, a colorimetric protein A enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was modified for enhancing accurate measurement of immunoglobulin concentrations in SSL serum. This improved methodology was then used in Chapter Four for comparing immunoglobulins in young developing SSL pups and dams as a measure of maternal investment of immunity among different rookeries. Lastly, Luminex multiplex technologies were employed for quantifying cell-signaling proteins (cytokines) in SSL serum to compare associations among rookery pups in Chapter Five. Although mercury concentrations in some individuals exceed adverse effects thresholds that are defined for other mammals, no statistically significant associations were found between immunoglobulins and cytokines relative to mercury concentrations in young developing pups. These thesis chapters provide a powerful baseline and improved methods for ongoing and future assessments of haptoglobin, immunoglobulins, and cytokines (combined with traditional hematologic measures) observed in young developing SSL pups in regions experiencing population decline when compared with rookeries with stable or increasing pup production. Some of these findings, especially for haptoglobin, are indicative of alterations in immune status in young SSL pups born to dams from different natal rookeries with higher mercury exposure. Understanding the cause of the differences in the immune status of young SSLs will require additional assessments of the maternal-fetal interface of immunity and other factors like nutrition, metabolic status, and infectious disease that may shape neonatal immunity leading to the regional differences observed.
    • Metal(loid) liberation from Alaskan coal combustion products as a function of time in various aqueous media

      Milke, Kyle P.; Guerard, Jennifer J.; Hayes, Sarah M.; Trainor, Thomas P. (2018-12)
      Little is known about the fate and potential toxicity of metal(loid)s that could be leached from coal combustion products by a (sub- )Arctic environment. Several potentially toxic elements are enriched in coal combustion products relative to the average crustal abundance including As, Cu, Se, and Sb. The overarching goal of this project is to examine the release of these and other metal(loid)s from early stage coal ash and fly ash from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) power plant and identify transformations in the presence of aqueous environmental media. Bioaccessibility experiments performed indicate that early stage coal ash and fly ash contain bioaccessible Cr, As, Se, Sb, and Pb. Bioaccessible concentrations of these commonly known toxic metal(loid)s were found to exceed EPA drinking water and freshwater regulations. Early stage coal ash and fly ash was reacted with 18 MΩ H₂O (control) or simulated rainwater to quantify metal(loid) liberation as a function of time. Leachate pH increased to ca. 12.5 within the first hour. Some metal(loid)s quickly reached the maximum measured concentration and consistently decreased in concentration with time such as Ba, Pb, and Zn, while other metal(loid)s increased in concentration with increased reaction time (e.g., Al, V, and Cr). Leaching behavior of between early stage coal ash and fly ash may be controlled by total initial concentrations present in the two ashes, differences in particle size, dissolution and precipitation reactions, and heterogeneity of metal(loid) distribution within the particles. Early stage coal ash and fly ash were also reacted with reconstituted dissolved organic matter solutions to simulate possible environmental interactions. It was found that for some elements (e.g., Ca), dissolved organic matter did not affect the mobility. Other metal(loid) mobilities were affected by the presence of dissolved organic matter, such as that of Sb, As, Zn, Se, Mo, and V. Some metal(loid) concentrations decreased while others increased with increasing dissolved organic carbon concentrations. Through these experiments, we have obtained a quantitative understanding of the kinetic controls of metal(loid) release from coal ash leaching with various aqueous media. Results from these experiments can help to improve storage and remediation processes for coal combustion products in an effort to protect human and the ecosystem health.
    • Role of antioxidant supplementation and exercise regimen in handling oxidative stress from natural PM2.5 exposure due to boreal forest fire

      Witkop, Jacob J.; Dunlap, Kriya; Duffy, Lawrence; Reynolds, Arleigh (2019-05)
      Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) exposure induces oxidative stress that causes many negative health outcomes such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disease. Research shows that dietary antioxidants and an up-regulated endogenous antioxidant response from exercise play key roles in the antioxidant defense against oxidative stress. This study is the first to use an animal model to investigate the cumulative effects of using lifestyle interventions of antioxidant supplementation (Arthrospira platensis) and exercise regimen on the antioxidant response before, during, and after ambient PM2.5 exposure. In a two-factorial, longitudinal design, sled dogs (n=48) were divided into four groups (exercise and supplemented, exercise, supplemented, and control) to (1) test the effects of exercise and antioxidant regimen on antioxidant response after one month of implemented exercise and supplementation protocol and (2) measure the antioxidant response of all groups during and after a natural forest fire event in 2015. Commercial assays for Total antioxidant Power (TAP) and the enzymatic antioxidant Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) were used as markers for the total antioxidant response and the endogenous response at all time points. During the forest fire, SOD was increased 5-10-fold over pre/post-exposure levels in all groups suggesting potential implication for using SOD as a marker for the acute response to environmental stress. TAP was increased in the exercise groups after one month of exercise protocol implementation, demonstrating the cytoprotective increase of antioxidants after repeated exercise.