Marine ecotoxicology

Semester 1

Semester 2

Semester 3

Semester 4



Polytechnic university of Marche


The Course is focussed on modern principles of environmental toxicology, from description of the main classes of traditional and emerging pollutants, to the toxicological implications on various biotic components and ecosystem health. Particular emphasis will be given to bioindicator organisms, molecular and cellular responses to pollutants, detoxification pathways and mechanisms of toxicity, practical use of biomarkers, biological and toxicity tests in research, normative guidelines and ecological risk assessment.


1. Introduction and definition of ecotoxicology.
2. Main classes of environmental pollutants, distribution in environmental matrices and factors that affect their toxicity: trace metals and organo-metallic compounds, polycyclic aromatics hydrocarbons, halogenated chemicals, endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, microplastics and nanoparticles.
3. Mechanisms of bioaccumulation and biomagnification: mercury in trophic webs.
4. Ecotoxicological approach in the marine environment; biomonitoring and choice of bioindicator organisms. Mussel Watch programs.
5. Biological effects of chemicals at molecular and cellular level: biomarkers with diagnostic and prognostic value, effect and exposure biomarkers.
6. Biotransformation and toxicity of aromatic xenobiotics, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, halogenated hydrocarbons, dioxins.
7. Detoxification and toxicity of trace metals.
8. Neurotoxicity effects of chemicals.
9. Role of lysosomes in detoxification and in pollutant-mediated pathologies.
10. Antioxidant defences and oxidative stress induced by pollutants.
11. Environmental genotoxicity and biomarkers of DNA damage.
12. Immunotoxicity in invertebrates and fish.
13. Endocrine disruption in marine organisms.
14. Toxicity Tests, general procedures, interpretation and applicability of results; examples of most commonly used tests for waters and sediments.
15. Elaboration of ecotoxicological results and definition of hazard indices: introduction to weight of evidence models in ecological risk assessment
16. Case studies of ecotoxicological applications.

Practicals: preparation and analytical techniques for measuring chemicals in tissues of marine organisms; measurement of lysosomal biomarkers, techniques for DNA integrity assessment; molecular, cellular and enzymatic biomarkers.
Computer class: use of weight of evidence models for elaborating hazard indices from biomarker results, and integration with other typologies of data.


A good knowledge of basic chemistry, ecology and cell biology is useful for this course.


The Course is aimed to prepare students on environmental diffusion of traditional and emerging contaminants, assessment of biological risks through knowledge of bioaccumulation mechanisms, biomagnification, molecular and cellular responses to stressors, bioindicator organisms and their practical use in biomonitoring programs, normative guidelines and introduction to environmental risk assessment with presentation of case-studies


Expected learning outcomes include:
- Knowledge on fate and distribution pathways of traditional and emerging pollutants.
- Knowledge on bioaccumulation mechanisms and practical implications in interpreting results of biomonitoring programmes, and predicting biomagnification risks.
- Knowledge on molecular and cellular mechanisms of detoxification, interactions and toxicity of chemical mixtures and multiple stressors.
- Knowledge on principles and practical use of organismal toxicity in regulatory and normative guidelines.
- Understanding advantages and limitations of multidisciplinary approaches and basic knowledge on weight of evidence models in ecological risk assessment.

Key skills acquired

At the end of the Course the student will have the capability to: describe main characteristics of chemicals and environmental distribution pathways; organize and plan a biomonitoring program, choose bioindicators, define appropriate analyses and biomarkers to investigate, identify the more appropriate methodological practices; evaluate problems and results related to biomagnification, bioaccumulation and toxicological effects at molecular, cellular and organismal levels; propose multidisciplinary, weight of evidence approaches in ecosystem health and ecological risk assessment.
The student will acquire transversal competences including the integration between chemical properties of environmental pollutants and their biological effects: chemical-physical characteristics of such compounds, sources of input and distribution among environmental matrices will be better evaluated in terms of mechanism of accumulation, detoxification, differences of responsiveness and sensitivity of various species. These transversal competences will be further enhanced by practical exercitations when students will acquire preliminary skills on analytical methodologies of chemicals in environmental matrices and biological tissues, as well as on toxicological measurements at molecular and cellular level


All the material presented during the course will be provided, including slides and scientific literature suggested on specific topics.
Selected chapters from the following books:
-Fundamentals of Aquatic Toxicology. Edited by Gary M. Rand, Taylor & Francis
-Aquatic Toxicology. Molecular, biochemical and cellular perspectives. Edited by Malins and Ostrander, Lewis Publishers
-Ecotoxicology: a comprehensive treatment. Edited by Newman and Clements, CRC Press
-Endocrine disruption. Biological bases for health effects in wildlife and humans. Edited by Norris and Carr, Oxford University Press
-Biomarkers in Marine Organisms: a practical approach. Edited by Garrigues et al., Elsevier


The examination is oral, based on questions and following discussion related to environmental pollutants, bioaccumulation mechanisms, detoxification pathways and onset of toxicity, monitoring and assessment of ecotoxicological risk.
During the examination, it will be evaluated the capability of the student to properly answer and discuss various issues, the general competence on problematics, the use of appropriate terminology, the capability to move from a topic to another one and make transversal links.
The final assessment will be given depending on the capability of the student to answer all the questions, general competence and ability to properly discuss various issues.

Involved teachers

Francesco Regoli Maura Benedetti Maria Elisa Giuliani Daniele Fattorini

Contact hours