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The University of Mississippi

UM Researchers Working to Protect Mississippi’s Environment

Posted on: July 15th, 2021 by pmsmith

Preserving the health of the Mississippi Coast is important for the health of the state as a whole. Fortunately for the state, the researchers at the Environmental Toxicology Research Program are here to help.

Kristie Willett

Kristie Willett

At ETRP, graduate students work alongside University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy faculty, research scientists and staff to resolve problems related to environmental and human health. Their research provides valuable resources for state and local decision-makers. With events such as extreme storms putting pressure on the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, those resources are more important than ever.

The program also trains the environmental stewards of the future. Graduates of the program have gone on to work for agencies that help protect Mississippi’s population.

Learn more about the program and the environmental issues facing Mississippi from Kristie Willett, chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences and graduate coordinator for ETRP.

What type of research is the ETRP involved in?

Research in UM Environmental Toxicology addresses issues related to marine and freshwater ecosystems, drinking water and air quality, and developmental and multigenerational toxicity of contaminants. Hypotheses explore a continuum of questions related to chemical fate, molecular and physiological consequences within organisms, and on up to population level impacts.

What projects is ETRP (and its students) currently engaged in?

ETRP is part of the Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence, or MBRACE where we are studying oyster resiliency and restoration in the Mississippi Sound. We are particularly interested in the combined effects of fresh water intrusion, ocean acidification and hypoxia on oyster growth, disease susceptibility and survival.

Other researchers in Environmental Toxicology study environmental drivers of coral and sponge diseases, while others study air pollution.

Two people inspecting an oyster


What are some other environmental issues that Mississippi is facing, especially the coast?

Some of the environmental issues facing Mississippi are oyster reef health and sustainability and related water quality along the Mississippi Coast, microplastic contamination in the Mississippi Sound, rural and urban air quality, and lead-contaminated drinking water

What do healthy oceans and waterways mean for us on land, especially in Mississippi?

Taking the oyster example, oyster reefs provide a wealth of “ecosystem services” that include filtering the water, reducing shoreline erosion, helping protect land during storm surges and being a food source to other animals, including humans. Mississippi is committed to restoring our once thriving oyster reefs, but there are many research questions related to the best ways to do that given our changing environment.

What’s something I can do to help?

Be conscious about pollution, realize that many of the things that get thrown away on land can end up in our waterways and oceans. This isn’t just plastics, but also pesticides and fertilizers can run off and cause problems down-stream.

What places have ETRP graduates gone on to work at?

Our graduates have worked at places such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Boehringer Ingelheim, Charles River Laboratories, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Tennessee Department of Environmental Quality and the Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute at North Carolina Central University.

Is there anything else about ETRP that the public should know?

Environmental Toxicology includes research and educational activities that seek to identify and resolve problems related to environmental and human health issues. This work includes basic and applied research approaches to empower individuals, resource managers, regulators and communities with the knowledge to improve human and environmental health.

Our goal is to contribute high quality educational opportunities and related research results that will lead to evidence-based decisions for complex environmental problems. We are committed to training the next generation of environmental toxicologists that will allow ecologically meaningful environmental stewardship.