Daphnia as a Biosensor: Understanding the Sensory Biology of a Sentinel Species for Improved Toxicological Assessments

EPA Grant Number: MA916336
Title: Daphnia as a Biosensor: Understanding the Sensory Biology of a Sentinel Species for Improved Toxicological Assessments
Investigators: Penalva-Arana, Carolina
Institution: University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $92,178
RFA: GRO Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Natural and Life Sciences , Academic Fellowships , Biology/Life Sciences


The objective of my research project is to understand the sensory biology of the sentinel species Daphnia for effective real-time toxicological assessment of water-borne chemicals. Since the early 1980s, Daphnia species have been utilized for assessing chronic and acute effects of toxins. Our knowledge, however, of the sensory biology of Daphnia has not been explored and to date little is known about their sensory capabilities. Although discussions have ensued about the possible chemosensory attributes of Daphnia, no one has looked for chemosensory structures or studied their neurobiology. Therefore, no one has linked behavioral response with chemosensory response. I intend to further our knowledge of this bioindicator species’ sensory biology so that real-time monitoring of the effects of toxins in the environment can be performed.


My main hypothesis is that Daphnia have chemoreceptors that allow them to respond immediately to changing chemical conditions and that these immediate responses manifest themselves behaviorally. Utilizing techniques borrowed from electrophysiology and through the use of laser confocal microscopy and electron microscopy, I will describe the neuronal network of Daphnia and identify regions and structures involved with sensory perception, specifically chemoreception. Furthermore, through the integration of various electrochemical and optical techniques, I am developing a system that can in almost real time assess the immediate behavioral response of Daphnia when exposed to changing environmental conditions. It can serve as an early warning system for toxicological assessments.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, Daphnia, sensory biology, biosensor, toxicology,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Chemistry, Monitoring/Modeling, Biochemistry, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, biosensing, aquatic ecosystem, aquatic toxins, toxicity, ecosystem health, water quality, bioindicator species, chemosensory study, real-time monitoring

Relevant Websites:

2004 STAR Graduate Fellowship Conference Poster (PDF, 1p., 1.37MB, about PDF)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final