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January 25th, 2010

Searching for the unseen

Amy Ringwood shucks oysters for a living. But instead of prying open an oyster shell and popping the juicy morsel into her mouth, she takes out its guts.

Ringwood, an environmental toxicologist at UNC Charlotte, studies how trace levels of chemicals in seawater affect the health of oysters and other filter-feeding organisms at a cellular level. She collects oysters and strips them of their gill tissues and functional liver, or hepatopancreas, to search their insides for pollutants such as heavy metals, organic compounds, and more recently, the nonliving microscopic pieces known as nanoparticles.

Over the past 20 years, Ringwood has learned a thing or two about how cells respond to metals and other pollutants. She now uses those cellular responses to gauge the potential toxicity of nanoparticles. Scientists know little about how cells take in and handle newer-field players such as nanoparticles.


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