The impact of micro (<5mm) and nano (<100nm) plastic accumulation on marine ecosystems must be quantified to inform sustainable practices ranging from manufacturing and waste processing protocols to the development of nutritional guidelines for marine species consumption. This project will advance the fundamental understanding of the impacts of nanoplastic exposure on the early stage (embryonic and larval) development of marine fish; as these phases are most susceptible, any abnormalities could have far-reaching ramifications for the sustainable future. The present study focuses on mahi-mahi (Coryphaenae hippurus), a commercially and nutritionally important fish species found around the world. Microfluidic technology will be used to closely regulate the simulated marine environment and nanoplastic exposure, while artificial intelligence will be implemented to correlate real time visualization of nanoplastic consumption and fish morphology with environmental conditions â€“ yielding essential data on the factors affecting nanoplastic consumption (e.g., size, concentration, stage of exposure) and the resultant effects on growth and development (e.g., cellular and genetic changes, abnormal organ development, growth retardation, changed feeding patterns). Data dissemination and educational outreach to broad, non-specialized audiences will be conducted at multiple educational levels â€“including the development of a series of age-appropriate modules titled â€œFishing plasticsâ€ for Florida International Universityâ€™s â€œEngineers on Wheelsâ€ program, where students and faculty give hands on demonstrations to students at multiple educational levels. In â€œFishing plasticâ€ students will explore pathways through which plastics accumulate in the ocean, the impact on the ecosystem and strategies to minimize transmission. The interdisciplinary nature of the project also offers aquaculture students at the University of Rhode Island and engineers at Florida International University the opportunity to learn one anotherâ€™s languages and integrate academic research with technology through funding for undergraduate students, undergraduate Capstone projects and a graduate fellowship. Examining environmental impact at the nanoscale is a new paradigm for end-end research into climate-change and pollution where the predominant focus is on macroscale manifestations. This study applies a mechanistic approach to rigorously measure - in situ and in real time â€“ the bioaccumulation of nano plastics as a function of environment (size, concentration) and uptake mechanism (active vs passive) and the resultant developmental changes in fish from the embryonic through larval stages. This approach will inform our fundamental understanding of the relationship between these factors and the role of nano plastics beyond the black and white terms of toxicity and morphology to provide insight into the cellular processes that cause these outcomes. Sensors embedded in microfluidic chambers containing a singly embryo/larvae generate real-time electrochemical data to be correlated with continuous visual measurements of the transparent/semi-transparent fish. Environmental impact will be rigorously categorized using machine learning to establish a relationship between applied conditions (nanoplastic composition/concentration), developmental stage, uptake mechanism (passive respiration/drinking versus active feeding) and visual measurement of bioaccumulation and morphology which will be correlated with continuous measurement of metabolic indicators Oxygen (O2) and total ammonia nitrogen (TAN:NH3/NH4). The implementation of artificial intelligence to correlate multiple data types obtained in real time and in situ is a unique approach which enables a more comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact as well as paving the way for future comparative studies. Data dissemination and educational outreach to broad, non-specialized audiences will be conducted at multiple educational levels â€“including the development of a series of age-appropriate modules on the environmental impact of plastics for Florida International Universityâ€™s â€œEngineers on Wheelsâ€ program. The interdisciplinary nature of the project also offers aquaculture students at the University of Rhode Island and engineers at Florida International University the opportunity to collaborate through funding for undergraduate students, Capstone projects focusing on microfluidic system design and sensor integration and a graduate fellowship.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.