Keene State College biology students are currently working on biomedical research regarding  harmful toxins in the environment which impact living creatures.

gerald alfieri / equinox staff

gerald alfieri / equinox staff

Juniors Anna McFarlin and Adam Harris said that they have been looking at tadpoles to find out similarities between how toxins in the environment known as PAH’s impact development in both frogs and humans. McFarlin said that the toxins are in fact affecting humans and tadpoles in both cardiovascular and behavioral ways and studying tadpoles can tell us about children and unborn babies.

Biology Professor Susan Whittemore said that the idea for the research came about when one of her students, McFarlin approached her about wanting to study tadpoles because they are a vertebrate species. Whittemore said that they then started to keep tadpoles and the research showed that when exposed to the PAH’s chemicals, the tadpoles have abnormally slow heart rates.

McFarlin said that as well as the cardiovascular reason, PAH’s are impacting behavior in a big way as well. “For behavior it causes them to swim, swim and swim without taking any breaks but their speed isn’t changing. Has so many negative effects for the larval at different stages. We’re breathing in these particles all day long,” said McFarlin.

Whittemore said that the PAH’s are a result of combustion of organic materials such as cigarettes, gasoline, furnaces, food being cooked on the grill and oil spill for water animals. Whittemore said that the relation between the PAH’s in tadpoles and humans came about when they partnered with NH-INBRE which is where the research is funded from which is a biomedical research program that is focused on human health. Whittemore said, “My tadpoles serve as a good model so I see them as serving as a model system for understanding what might be happening with human fetuses and children.”

Harris said he gathered information on frog embryos that had been exposed to two toxins and said the data shows just how much the toxins were affecting the embryos. Harris said that this isn’t the first biology research that he has been a part of. “The PAH’s affect the heart similarly in the two different kinds of treatment that I did. Previous research that I did about a year before was on single PAH exposure and then over the summer we switched to kind of a more real world exposure protocol where we exposed this larvae to diesel particles so they were particles collected from a forklift at the National Institute of Science and Technology.”

McFarlin said that the research is important because PAH’s are something that are impacting us on a daily basis and while people care about it, they may not know it is happening. One of the ways that McFarlin said they let people know about her research is by visiting other colleges and institutions and getting the chance to be with other people who study science. Some of the places McFarlin and Harris said they have spoken include Dartmouth College, Quinnipiac University and Mount Washington College.

Colby Dudal can be contacted at

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