The effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill were devastating to the marine ecosystem and had a severe economic impact on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Such acute effects may pale, however, against potential long-term health effects on the human population of the area. The oil contains organic compounds, such as benzene and naphthalene, that are known genotoxic carcinogens, and in a recent study by Dr. Lopez of the NSU Oceanographic Center, appeared to dysregulate genes in marine sponges that are oncogenic in man.
In this study, we will examine the short-term (apoptotic) and long-term (colony growth) cytotoxic effects of the complex oil/dispersant mix on lymphoblastoid human cells and primary breast epithelial explant cultures. These studies will then allow us to design further experiments that will document, investigate and characterize the carcinogenic effects of oil/dispersant exposure on these model systems, both in terms of genetic (mutation induction) and epigenetic (gene dysregulation) events. These studies will provide the molecular and mechanistic data required for defining the risk of human cancer induction in populations exposed to oil and oil spills. In addition, this approach will allow us to generate a prototype gene expression “signature” that can be used as a screening biomarker for toxicant exposure and risk of health effects.