Department Environmental Toxicology

Molecular Toxicology

The widespread distribution of toxic substances in our waters constantly imposes challenges on aquatic animals. Physical and biological stressors can additionally potentiate the severity of these threats. Such environmental stressors can have short-term as well as long-term consequences on the development, physiology and behavior of aquatic organisms and can lead to adverse effects.  Yet, organisms have also evolved mechanisms to respond to such environmental threats and adapt to avert detrimental effects and toxicity. But toxicological response pathways as well as adaptive mechanisms are often obscure.

We are investigating the effects of environmental threats on the organism with the aim to mechanistically dissect toxicological and adaptive responses on the molecular level. The nervous system extracts and integrates information from the environment, and controls physiology and behavior. By analyzing environmentally-driven behavioral phenotypes in larval and adult zebrafish, different parts of their nervous system can be assessed, which allows us to gain insight into the mechanism of how such threatening substances act and what effects they exert on the body. Further analysis of the structure and function of the nervous system using state-of-the-art imaging techniques and optogenetic tools help us to gain a detailed understanding of the phenotypes emerging upon exposure to the threat. In addition to the phenotypic consequences, we want to understand  the underlying molecular basis. Therefore, candidate genes are selected based on current knowledge derived from OMICs data and computational modeling, and are studied using genome editing tools (CRISPR/Cas9) and gene expression analysis. Moreover,  transcriptome and proteome profiling techniques are employed to further gain unbiased insight into the molecular mechanisms of action of a given substance.

A detailed understanding of the molecular mechanism leading to short- and long-term effects upon exposure to environmental threats is essential for the risk assessment of a given substance and can ultimately lead to a better environmental health protection.

Latest publications

Sigmund, G., Ågerstrand, M., Antonelli, A., Backhaus, T., Brodin, T., Diamond, M. L., … Groh, K. J. (2023). Addressing chemical pollution in biodiversity research. Global Change Biology, 29(12), 3240-3255. doi:10.1111/gcb.16689, Institutional Repository
de Almeida Torres, M., Jones, M. R., vom Berg, C., Pinto, E., & Janssen, E. M. L. (2023). Lethal and sublethal effects towards zebrafish larvae of microcystins and other cyanopeptides produced by cyanobacteria. Aquatic Toxicology, 263, 106689 (11 pp.). doi:10.1016/j.aquatox.2023.106689, Institutional Repository
von Wyl, M., Könemann, S., & vom Berg, C. (2023). Different developmental insecticide exposure windows trigger distinct locomotor phenotypes in the early life stages of zebrafish. Chemosphere, 317, 137874 (10 pp.). doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2023.137874, Institutional Repository
Groh, K., vom Berg, C., Schirmer, K., & Tlili, A. (2022). Anthropogenic chemicals as underestimated drivers of biodiversity loss: scientific and societal implications. Environmental Science and Technology, 56(2), 707-710. doi:10.1021/acs.est.1c08399, Institutional Repository
Könemann, S., von Wyl, M., & vom Berg, C. (2022). Zebrafish larvae rapidly recover from locomotor effects and neuromuscular alterations induced by cholinergic insecticides. Environmental Science and Technology, 56(12), 8449-8462. doi:10.1021/acs.est.2c00161, Institutional Repository
Ramšak, Ž., Modic, V., Li, R. A., vom Berg, C., & Zupanic, A. (2022). From causal networks to adverse outcome pathways: a developmental neurotoxicity case study. Frontiers in Toxicology, 4, 815754 (18 pp.). doi:10.3389/ftox.2022.815754, Institutional Repository
Thessen, A. E., Marvel, S., Achenbach, J. C., Fischer, S., Haendel, M. A., Hayward, K., … Hamm, J. (2022). Implementation of zebrafish ontologies for toxicology screening. Frontiers in Toxicology, 4, 817999 (12 pp.). doi:10.3389/ftox.2022.817999, Institutional Repository
Fitzgerald, J. A., Könemann, S., Krümpelmann, L., Županič, A., & vom Berg, C. (2021). Approaches to test the neurotoxicity of environmental contaminants in the zebrafish model - from behavior to molecular mechanisms. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 40(4), 989-1006. doi:10.1002/etc.4951, Institutional Repository
Könemann, S., Meyer, S., Betz, A., Županič, A., & vom Berg, C. (2021). Sub-lethal peak exposure to insecticides triggers olfaction-mediated avoidance in zebrafish larvae. Environmental Science and Technology, 55(17), 11835-11847. doi:10.1021/acs.est.1c01792, Institutional Repository
Li, R. A., Talikka, M., Gubian, S., vom Berg, C., Martin, F., Peitsch, M. C., … Zupanic, A. (2021). Systems toxicology approach for assessing developmental neurotoxicity in larval zebrafish. Frontiers in Genetics, 12, 652632 (17 pp.). doi:10.3389/fgene.2021.652632, Institutional Repository
Li, R., Zupanic, A., Talikka, M., Belcastro, V., Madan, S., Dörpinghaus, J., … Hoeng, J. (2020). Systems toxicology approach for testing chemical cardiotoxicity in larval zebrafish. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 33(10), 2550-2564. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrestox.0c00095, Institutional Repository
Fitzgerald, J. A., Kirla, K. T., Zinner, C. P., & vom Berg, C. M. (2019). Emergence of consistent intra-individual locomotor patterns during zebrafish development. Scientific Reports, 9, 13647 (14 pp.). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-49614-y, Institutional Repository
Legradi, J. B., Di Paolo, C., Kraak, M. H. S., van der Geest, H. G., Schymanski, E. L., Williams, A. J., … Hollert, H. (2018). An ecotoxicological view on neurotoxicity assessment. Environmental Sciences Europe, 30(1), 46 (34 pp.). doi:10.1186/s12302-018-0173-x, Institutional Repository


Dr. Colette vom Berg Deputy head of department Tel. +41 58 765 5535 Send Mail

Team members

Jessica Bertoli PhD Student Tel. +41 58 765 5364 Send Mail
Nicole Okoniewski Lab Technician Tel. +41 58 765 5434 Send Mail
Melissa von Wyl Scientific Assistant Tel. +41 58 765 5586 Send Mail