Puerto Rico Center for Environmental Neuroscience

Ongoing/Completed/Pending: 

Completed

Abstract: 

Human activities are altering the environment at an alarming rate. A multidisciplinary approach is essential to understand the complex interplay between molecular, cellular, and behavioral responses by organisms under these increasingly stressful conditions. The nervous system is the interface between an organism and its environment. The Puerto Rico Center for Environmental Neuroscience (PRCEN) will combine neuroscience (the study of the nervous system and behavior) and environmental science (the study of local ecosystem environments) to tackle environmental issues in Puerto Rico's tropical setting. The Center will combine neuroscientists from the Institute of Neurobiology and the Dept. of Anatomy of the University of Puerto (UPR) Medical Sciences campus and environmental scientists from the Environmental Sciences Program and the Depts. of Biology and Chemistry of the UPR Rio Piedras. The alliance will bring together cutting-edge techniques normally associated with cellular and molecular neuroscience with expertise in local ecosystems and environmental science to create a novel field that will require participants to move outside of their comfort zones and learn about entirely new areas of research. Objectives of the center will be to: (1) establish research programs in the new field of environmental neuroscience, (2) enhance research productivity through faculty and infrastructure development, (3) increase the numbers of minority students attaining advanced degrees in interdisciplinary science, and (4) generate community understanding of the work being done in the Center. The research subprojects focus on four local ecosystems: terrestrial, freshwater rivers, estuaries, and marine systems. The habitats under study are intimately connected: contaminants in the mountains make their way into rivers, pass through the estuaries, and end up in the sea. The oceans subproject is designed to understand the consequences of environmental pressures on tropical corals, using state of the art molecular-cellular techniques. The estuaries project will focus on the blue crab, which supports one of the largest fisheries industries in the United States. This project will use high resolution monitoring to track the presence of contaminants and other environmental stressors, and correlate the resulting environmental data with physiological monitoring of heart and endocrine functioning in this crab. The freshwater studies will monitor contaminants in three representative Puerto Rican rivers. Four animal models (zebrafish, mosquitofish, and two types of prawn) will be exposed to pollutants found in the three rivers, and a range of physiological and behavioral parameters will be examined. Finally, the terrestrial project will use sophisticated molecular biology and electro-physiology to examine the nervous systems of fruit flies from different habitats in Puerto Rico. The standard laboratory-reared fruit fly (Drosophila) is a prized and widely-used model system in neurobiology laboratories throughout the world. However, there is a paucity of studies examining this animal in the wild, especially with respect to the specific habitats in which they are living. Intellectual Merit The conceptual linchpin of the PRCEN is that the nervous system is the interface between an organism and its environment; a multidisciplinary approach is essential to understand the complex interplay of molecular, cellular, organismal, and ecosystem dynamics faced by organisms under the increasingly stressful conditions created by human impacts on the environment. We refer to this approach as environmental neuroscience. The program will be unified by the central hypothesis that a full understanding of the consequences of pollution and climate change requires dialogue between investigators monitoring environmental conditions and organismal biologists using that information to determine how environment affects function. Broader Impact The PRCEN center will change the way we look at environmental problems, and will create a new category of scientists prepared for the environmental challenges developing from human activities. The Center will impact a large number of minority students by tapping into the collective student population of over 19,000. Our undergraduate participants will integrate closely with ongoing NSF sponsored mentorship initiatives such as the Lewis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, and the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program. Our graduate students will have access to broad training here, and will also be given the opportunity to take courses and train stateside at places like the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. Finally, our studies will integrate with local organizations such as the San Juan Bay Estuary Program to coordinate community outreach targeting K-12 education.

Project Type: 

Media Year: 

December, 2015

Host: 

DES

Program: 

Funding Information_Detailed: 

Funding Type: 

Funding Agency: 

National Science Foundation

Quantity Awarded: 

4 985 003.00

Period Awarded: 

2011 to 2016

Year: 

Year: 

2011 to 2012

Year: 

2012 to 2013

Year: 

2013 to 2014

Year: 

2014 to 2015

Year: 

2015 to 2016

People-Roles: 

Investigator: 

Mark W Miller

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Principal Investigator

Investigator: 

Steven Treistman

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Principal Investigator

Investigator: 

María A Sosa

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Co-Principal Investigator

Investigator: 

Joshua Rosenthal

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Co-Principal Investigator

Investigator: 

Bruno Marie-Bordes

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Co-Principal Investigator

Investigator: 

Mark W Miller

Investigator Project Role - DES: 

Co-Principal Investigator