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Sept. 21, 2016

Making evidence-based recommendations on how humans can lessen impacts on aquatic environments is the “science-in-action” approach that fuels the research in Deborah MacLatchy’s lab.

Her ecotoxiciological work provides an important voice in helping to safeguard human and aquatic life from the detrimental effects of water contamination and stressors from sources such as climate change, sewage, oil and gas exploration, and pulp and paper mills. The discoveries in MacLatchy’s lab touch aquatic environments from southern Ontario rivers to the Atlantic and the Northwest Territories.

MacLatchy’s research focuses on the effects, and mechanisms of action, of environmental endocrine disrupting substances (EDSs) on the hormonal systems in fish. EDSs mimic the natural hormones of animals, and in the process, alter the normal functioning of their endocrine systems, which control reproduction, development, and growth. The scientific observations of these effects are widespread, but what is not yet known, and what interests MacLatchy, is how these effects manifest, how they are integrated and realized at different levels of biological organization (from the genome to the population), and the extent of the differences among species.


“I’m specifically interested in the effects of EDSs on fish native to Canadian ecosystems, especially those under the additional stresses of climate change, industrialization and urbanization,” says MacLatchy. “It’s important to me that the work of my lab focuses on our responsibilities as Canadian researchers to help protect our local environments.”

MacLatchy enjoys the variety of science disciplines – physiology, ecology, chemistry and engineering – that her research integrates, as well as the opportunity to work with industries, governments, municipalities and communities to apply the results. But for MacLatchy, who cites one of her research goals as bringing people together to address these environmental challenges, the effort – and the reward – is in her lab.

“The students in my lab make a real contribution to the field. The opportunity to support and guide them to become the next generation of researchers and practitioners is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job,” says MacLatchy.

MacLatchy, Wilfrid Laurier University’s provost and vice-president: academic and founding fellow of the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), the Laurier Institute for Water Science (LIWS) and the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WINs), works with three CRI-affiliated graduate biology students: Samantha Deeming, Grant Harrison and Robert Rutherford, as well as undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

“It’s important for academic leaders to continue to research and teach and participate fully in the academic life of the university,” she says.

MacLatchy and the students in her lab work to identify source EDS contaminants and to help industry remediate the compounds that affect fish reproduction and are released through the pulp and paper industry and sewage treatment’s waste water. Their work is funded by industry and agencies including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which also recognized MacLatchy’s collaborative work, along with Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. and Environment and Climate Change Canada, with an NSERC Synergy award for partnerships.

MacLatchy has contributed to over 100 peer-reviewed publications. She is a past president and council member of the Canadian Society of Zoologists and past chair of the science directors of the Canadian Rivers Institute. She is an active member of the Platform Management Committee of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium and co-leader of the consortium's Ecotoxicology Node.

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