Sascha Nicklisch is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Toxicology at UC Davis. Dr. Nicklish's lab focuses on how drugs and environmental chemicals enter and accumulate in humans and other organisms. We asked Dr. Nicklish a few questions to introduce him to the NorCal SETAC community.
To learn more about his work, join us at our Winter Social on February 11 in Davis, CA. Details here.
What research are you currently working on? What excites you about it?
Our research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of drug and chemical uptake and distribution in humans and other organisms. In my previous research position, I have shown that environmental chemicals found in seafood can block protective proteins in the body that typically fend off toxins and toxicants. The Nicklisch Lab seeks to develop new high-throughput screening assays to identify more members of this novel class of environmental chemicals, to provide meal recommendations based on current levels of these compounds in food, and to guide the future design of green chemicals that are better eliminated from human bodies.
What excites me about this research is that it has both a fundamental science and applied science component to it. Investigating the molecular mechanisms of pollutant bioaccumulation through our food demands an interdisciplinary approach, including collaborations between biochemists, molecular biologists, ecologists, biomedical scientists and nutritionists. The development of toxico-nutritional guidelines and meal recommendations as another outcome of this research connects our research with the interests of the general public.
What led you to your line of work?
Throughout my career, I have been working with proteins and in particular on membrane transporters. I was always fascinated by how these molecular gates regulate uptake and distribution of molecules into and between cells. During my Postdoc at Scripps Institution of Oceanography I was further exposed to a specific class of transporters, the so-called drug transporters. These proteins are considered the bouncer of the cell: They specifically recognize molecules that are foreign to the cell and kick them out before they can enter and possibly damage the cell. Surprisingly, some foreign chemicals, the class of Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs, can bypass this crucial defense system and ultimately bioaccumulate in organisms. Understanding the mechanisms by which these chemicals avoid cellular export and ultimately accumulate in our food and bodies has been my primary research interest ever since.
Why are you drawn to the field of environmental toxicology?
Environmental Toxicology is a broad field of research that allows the investigation of toxicological impacts on flora, fauna and humans from a macro-scale of global pollution down to the microscale of nanoplastic and other industrial chemical uptake into organisms. I personally felt drawn to this field since I felt that there was a gap in research concerning the biochemistry underlying the effects of pollution in organisms. While global assessments of animal and plant diversity decline on an economical, biological and genetic scale are popular strategies to evaluate acute and chronic effects of man-made pollution, I am genuinely interested in investigating the biochemistry that allows these chemicals to persist in the environment and to accumulate and cause injury and damage in all organisms of the food chain, including the impacts on humans.
How do you see your role as a scientist in contributing to human/ecosystem health and sustainability?
As a faculty in the ETOX Department, I consider myself as a scientist, teacher and research ambassador with a clear mandate to do high-level research on pollutant bioaccumulation and their effects on humans while also disseminating and discussing my findings with other researchers, governmental officials, businesses and local communities alike. Specifically, I think that breaking down the erratic pollution-->disease model with a fresh biochemical eye can help scientists and the general public to better understand some essential things:
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