The virtual fish makes a comprehensive view possible
However, an even more comprehensive picture of how chemicals can affect the fish can only be obtained by considering other important organs in addition to the gills. The researchers are now pursuing this objective as part of NFP 79. They are working to this end, for example, on tests based on the intestine or nerve cells of rainbow trout. A look at the molecular level, i.e. at proteins or RNA molecules, also helps to complete the picture.
Ksenia Groh, who is involved in the project as a research group leader, explains: “Our vision is that the data from the in-vitro tests on cells of all major organs will flow into a single computer model, the virtual fish.” This should enable detailed and well-founded statements to be made on how chemicals affect fish – without having to resort to experiments on living fish.
Cooperation with partners in practice
An important part of the project is the involvement of the chemical industry as well as the authorities responsible for the approval of new chemicals. “We want to develop the virtual fish together with them in order to align the process from development to application at the regulatory level to the effective needs – which in the case of the gill test took twelve years –and thus speed it up,” says Groh. Bernhard Truffer, an expert in the field of technical innovations, provides the know-how needed to shape the cooperation and exchange with the practical partners. He notes: “Early involvement of the players is important so that the requirements posed by later implementation can already be taken into account during development of the methods. In this way, animal testing can be replaced more quickly in practice.” The team is supported by Jarno Hoekman, also a professor of innovation at the University of Utrecht.
Colette vom Berg, who is involved in the project as a research group leader, summarises:
“For some time now, Eawag has been doing research with many partners to develop tests that make experiments on living fish unnecessary. With this great project, we have the opportunity to combine different approaches and close gaps.”
One postdoctoral and two PhD positions are currently advertised as part of the project.