Eco-systems biology—From the gene to the stream
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This review considers the implications for environmental health and ecosystem sustainability, of new developments in radiobiology and ecotoxicology. Specifically it considers how the non-targeted effects of low doses of radiation, which are currently being scrutinized experimentally, not only mirror similar effects from low doses of chemical stressors but may actually lead to unpredictable emergent effects at higher hierarchical levels. The position is argued that non-targeted effects are mechanistically important in coordinating phased hierarchical transitions (i.e. transitions which occur in a regulated sequence). The field of multiple stressors (both radiation and chemical) is highly complex and agents can interact in an additive, antagonist or synergistic manner. The outcome following low dose multiple stressor exposure also is impacted by the context in which the stressors are received, perceived or communicated by the organism or tissue. Modern biology has given us very sensitive methods to examine changes following stressor interaction with biological systems at several levels of organization but the translation of these observations to ultimate risk remains difficult to resolve. Since multiple stressor exposure is the norm in the environment, it is essential to move away from single stressor-based protection and to develop tools, including legal instruments, which will enable us to use response-based risk assessment. Radiation protection in the context of multiple stressors includes consideration of humans and non-humans as separate groups requiring separate assessment frameworks. This is because for humans, individual survival and prevention of cancer are paramount but for animals, it is considered sufficient to protect populations and cancer is not of concern. The need to revisit this position is discussed not only from the environmental perspective but also from the human health perspective because the importance of "pollution" (a generic term for multiple environmental stressors) as a cause of non-cancer disease is increasingly being recognized. Finally a way forward involving experimental assessment of biomarker performance to lead to a theoretical framework allowing modeling is suggested.
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