Kristin Schirmer

Prof. Dr. Kristin Schirmer

Department Environmental Toxicology

About Me

Head of Department of Environmental Toxicology

Cell Biologist/Toxicologist

Adjunct Assistant Professor
EPF Lausanne, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) and Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, Canada

Lecturer (venia legendi)
Department of Environmental Sciences, ETH Zürich, SwitzerlandResearch Interests

Research Interests
My expertise is in animal cell biology and environmental toxicology. Both of these research areas have experienced dramatic and exciting developments throughout the past decades. Especially the advances in technologies to identify and characterize large numbers of genes as well as proteins have laid the foundation for revolutionary new insights into the functioning of cells. In environmental toxicology, focus has shifted from exploring the effects of acute exposures to high concentrations of toxic substances to the effects of very low, chronic exposures, which change gene expression and protein function. Thus, I believe that linking cell biology and environmental toxicology is a powerful combination for deriving information regarding routes and risks of exposure of animals and humans to toxic substances and for developing strategies to protect the ecosystem and sustain natural resources.

My specific research interest is in elucidating how (potential) environmental contaminants, such as industrial chemicals, personal care products and engineered nanoparticles, interact with vertebrate cells. I focus on the compartment water, applying piscine and mammalian cell models. My philosophy for working on the cellular and molecular level evolves from the role of cells as initial targets of any interaction with environmental contaminants. Thus, knowledge about changes to cellular function is important for understanding and predicting the effects on a higher level of biological organization. I am working toward linking changes on the molecular level and whole organism effects and the advancement of in vitro approaches to enable resource-efficient environmental monitoring and a reduction in the use of animals in toxicology.

Teaching Philosophy
One of my general aims in teaching is to raise the students' appreciation for the natural environment and their personal role in it. I like to get students excited about the many unanswered questions in nature. At the same time I want them to observe how achievements and new discoveries are being made and how important it is to have an open, but critical, and inquiring mind. I am aware that not all undergraduate students will actually become professional environmental scientists. However, all of them will be exposed to the rapid and often controversial developments in this area and I wish to provide the basics that enable students to make objective judgments. Inasmuch as most research questions today can only be answered in the context of a number of disciplines, I pursue an interdisciplinary approach not only to research but also to teaching.

Selected key publications (one per year since 1997; for more info since 2008 please refer to:
[1]    Volz DC, Belanger S, Embry M, Padilla S, Sanderson H, Schirmer K, Scholz S, Villeneuve D.         (2011). Adverse outcome pathways during early fish development: A conceptual framework for         identification of chemical screening and prioritization strategies. Toxicological Science 123(2):         349-358.
[2]    Schirmer K, Fischer BB, Madureira DJ, Pillai S. (2010). Transcriptomics in Ecotoxicology.         Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 397 (3), 917-923.
[3]    Kühnel D, Busch W, Meißner T, Springer A, Potthoff A, Richter V, Gelinsky M, Scholz S, Schirmer         K. (2009). Agglomeration of tungsten carbide nanoparticles in exposure medium does not prevent         uptake and toxicity toward a rainbow trout gill cell line. Aquatic Toxicology, 93, 91-99.
[4]    Schirmer, K., Tanneberger, K., Kramer, N.I., Völker, D., Scholz, S., Hafner, C., Lee, L.E.J., Bols,         N.C., Hermens, J.L.M., 2008. Developing a list of reference chemicals for testing alternatives to         whole fish toxicity tests. Aquatic Toxicology 90, 128-137.
[5]    Voelker, D., Vess, C., Tillmann, M., Nagel, R., Ottow, G.W., Geisler, R., Schirmer, K., Scholz, S.         (2007). Differential gene expression as a toxicant-sensitive endpoint in zebrafish embryos and         larvae. Aquatic Toxicology 81, 355-364.
[6]    Schirmer, K. (2006) Proposal to improve vertebrate cell cultures to establish them as substitutes         for the regulatory testing of chemicals and effluents using fish. Toxicology 224, 163-183.
[7]    Bopp, S.K., Weiß, H-J., Schirmer, K. (2005) Time-integrated monitoring of PAHs in ground water         using the Ceramic Dosimeter passive sampling device. Journal of Chromatography A 1072,         137-147.
[8]    Schirmer, K., Dayeh, V.R., Bopp, S.K., Russold, S., Bols, N.C. (2004) Applying whole water         samples to cell bioassays for detecting dioxin-like compounds at contaminated sites. Toxicology,         205, 211-221.
[9]    Brack, W. and Schirmer, K. (2003) Effect-directed identification of oxygen and sulfur heterocycles         as major Cytochrome P4501A-inducers in a contaminated sediment. Environmental Science and         Technology, 37, 3062-3070.
[10]  Dayeh, V.R., Schirmer, K., and Bols, N.C. (2002) Development and application of fish cell line         bioassays for evaluating the toxicity of industrial effluents. Water Research, 36, 3727-3738.
[11]  Behrens, A., Schirmer, K., Bols, N.C. and Segner, H. (2001) Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as         inducers of cytochrome P4501A enzyme activity in the rainbow trout liver cell line, RTL-W1, and in         primary cultures of rainbow trout hepatocytes. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 20(3),         632-643.
[12]  Schirmer, K., Chan, A.G.J., and Bols, N.C. (2000) Transitory metabolic disruption and cytotoxicity         elicited by benzo[a]pyrene in two cell lines from rainbow trout liver. Journal of Biochemical and         Molecular Toxicology, 14(5), 262-276.
[13]  Bols N.C., Schirmer, K., Heikkila, E.M., Greenberg, B.M. and Dixon, D.G. (1999) Induction of         7-ethoxyresorufin-o-deethylase activity by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a rainbow trout         liver cell line and the derivation of toxic equivalency factors. Ecotoxicology and Environmental         Safety 44, 118-128.
 [14] Schirmer, K., Dixon, D.G., Greenberg, B.M. and Bols, N.C. (1998) Ability of 16 priority PAHs to         be directly cytotoxic to a cell line from the rainbow trout gill. Toxicology 127, 129-141.
 [15] Schirmer, K., Chan, A.G.J., Greenberg, B.M., Dixon, D.G. and Bols, N.C. (1997) Methodology for         demonstrating and measuring the photocytotoxicity of fluoranthene to fish cells in culture.                   Toxicology In Vitro 11, 107-119.

Selected special recognitions that I have received
2007            SETAC Environmental Education Award
2007            Felix-Wankel Animal Welfare Research Award
2007            Technology Transfer Award for Ceramic Toximeter passives sampler (Helmholtz Centre for                     Environmental Research - UFZ)
1998            W.B. Pearson Medal for recognition of creative research in a Doctoral thesis
1997            Best Student Platform Presentation Award, 24th Aquatic Toxicity Workshop
1994-1996   University of Waterloo and Ontario International Graduate Student Scholarship

Before coming to Eawag, I have trained students from about 11 different nations und lectured courses or supervised labs in...
Cell Biology, Environmental Biochemistry, Immunology, Animal and Plant Cell Biotechnology, Environmental Microbiology and Microorganisms in Food.

I am now teaching courses in...
“Ecotoxicology” (Bachelor level, EPFL), “Fate, Bioavailability and Effects of Contaminants” (M.Sc./Ph.D. level, ETHZ) and “Molecular Ecotoxicology” (M.Sc. laboratory training course, ETHZ). Moreover, I am very interested in teaching specific knowledge and skills, e.g. scientific integrity.

In my lab, we are currently tackling the following research questions...
-     Can fish cell line bioassays and fish embryos be improved to predict the toxicity to fish and thus        serve as alternatives to fish tests in the regulation of chemicals and environmental monitoring?
-     What are the mechanisms underlying the interactions (uptake, cellular localization and potential        effects) of engineered nanoparticles and cells?
-     How can the dynamic interaction of a contaminant with a cell be quantified and modeled? Can we       develop and use mathematical models to link cellular and whole organism responses?
-     What is the role of active transport mechanisms in the uptake/excretion and sensitivity to                       contaminants of cells and organisms (zebrafish embryo, water flea)?
-    How can passive dosing technologies be advanced to improve in vitro assays and environmental           monitoring? (e.g. Toximeter - a passive sampling device that enables combined chemical and                 biological monitoring).
-    Can novel fish cell lines be derived with tissue specific functions?

My favourite motto :) It's not whether you get knocked down. It's whether you get up again! - Vince Lombardi

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Curriculum Vitae

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Phone: +41 58 765 5266
Fax: +41 58 765 5802
Address: Eawag
Überlandstrasse 133
8600 Dübendorf
Office: BU E07

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Expert of

aquatic ecotoxicology, micropollutants, molecular ecotoxicology, nanoparticles, ecotoxicology, cellular ecotoxicology

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