Are male fish turning female?

Are chemicals in our water supply turning male fish female? That was the question examined by Athlone student Colm McGee recently, as he researched the problem of ‘intersex’ fish in Irish rivers. Colm was one of two postgraduate students at Athlone Institute of Technology who have won awards in research poster competitions in the past week. Colm scooped first prize and €200 in the inaugural Postgraduate Research Poster competition at AIT last Thursday, while Mary Garvey won the best overall poster competition and €250 at the national conference of the Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland (ESAI) that was held over the weekend at DKIT. Mimic Colm’s research looks at the problem of ‘intersex’ fish in Irish rivers. Male fish residing in three Irish midland rivers have been observed to undergo feminisation after exposure to certain environmental pollutants.  This has resulted in eggs growing in the testes of male fish. The pollutants mimic the female hormone, oestrogen. One pollutant which has been found in sewage treatment plants and rivers is the active ingredient in the female contraceptive pill, ethynylestradiol. Supervised by Dr. Andy Fogarty, Colm’s research is entitled ‘Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Are they turning our male fish female? An investigation.’ ESAI winner, Mary Garvey, who is from Granard, Co. Longford, researched how to kill cryptosporidium using pioneering pulsed ultra-violet light. This technology allows for energy that is fifty thousand times the intensity of sunlight. With cryptosporidium proving increasingly resistant to traditional treatment methods, this research looks to have considerable public health benefits. Entitled, ‘Pulsed UV inactivation of Cryptosporidium Species’, Mary’s research is supervised by Dr Neil Rowan. She has been invited to submit a paper to the ESAI publication of selected proceeding from Environ 2008 and also to write an article regarding their project for publication in the ESAI bulletin and on the ESAI website. Mary also came second in the AIT Postgraduate Research Poster competition, while Alison Smyth from Rathcline, Co. Longford came in third place. Alison’s poster was on ‘Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Application of in-vitro testing to evaluate the oestrogenicity of UV filters and related compounds.’ Alison’s supervisor is Jim Roche.   Postgraduate research activity is rapidly expanding at AIT. The institute has scored highly in several competitive funding schemes in recent years and was placed first in Ireland on two occasions in 2007.