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Brine Box, a newly opened walkup, takeout seafood restaurant on the Oceanside Pier will offer fresh, seasonal catches. Photo by Hannah Guthman
Brine Box, a walkup takeout seafood restaurant on the Oceanside Pier, offers fresh, seasonal catches. Photo by Hannah Guthman
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UCSD gets grant to re-open center to study seafood safety

REGION — UC San Diego was awarded $7.35 million from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health for a program to study seafood contaminants and nutrients in a changing climate.

The funding, to be awarded over five years, will re-establish the Scripps Center for Oceans and Human Health.

“The Scripps Center for Oceans and Human Health will bring together a range of scientific disciplines to advance our understanding of seafood security to ensure we maintain our access to safe and healthy seafood,” said Bradley Moore, professor of marine chemistry at Scripps Oceanography and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, who will serve as center director.

“Scientific discoveries are the first of many steps to ensuring seafood safety, and to help with the process, the center will also have a focus on community engagement to work with fishers, chefs, non-profits and the public at large to bridge scientific discovery with the community,” Moore added.

The center will also engage with the public to build capacity for public health risk prevention while highlighting the health benefits of eating fish.

“The ocean is absorbing more than 90% of excess heat caused by human activity, which is causing habitat migration and compression, low oxygen zones and biodiversity loss,” said Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for marine sciences at UCSD and director of Scripps Oceanography. “It’s important to understand how these changes may impact seafood security, given that three billion people consume seafood globally each year.”

The center will focus on three primary research endeavors, a statement from UCSD reads:

  •  Climate change impacts on the human intake of seafood micronutrients and contaminants;
  •  The marine microbiome as a source for the synthesis, transformation and distribution of seafood contaminants;
  •  Mechanisms of bioaccumulation and developmental toxicity of seafood pollutants.

Led by Scripps Oceanography marine biogeochemist Amina Schartup and biological oceanographer Anela Choy, the first project seeks to research how nutrients and contaminants like methylmercury and other chemicals are accumulating in the marine food web. According to the university, Schartup and Choy will also develop models to simulate the cycling chemicals, and potential human exposure, under different climate change scenarios.

The second research area will look into the marine microbiome to see how flame-retardant chemicals – including ones produced naturally by sea sponges – are made and how they circulate within fish bodies and the larger marine ecosystem. This effort will be led by Moore and Eric Allen, a professor of marine biology and molecular biology with a joint appointment between Scripps and the School of Biological Sciences at UCSD.

The third research program will be co-led by Scripps marine biologist Amro Hamdoun and Geoffrey Chang, professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UCSD, who collaborate to examine how chemicals get into cells.

“They are zooming in at a molecular level to understand how marine pollutants are transported into organisms, how pollutants further accumulate in the organism and how these pollutants are taken up by the human body,” a university statement reads.

According to UCSD, the NIH and NSF grant marks the re-forming of the Scripps Center for Oceans and Human Health, which had existed from 2013-18. The center was originally launched to examine emerging contaminants found naturally in common seafoods, as well as man-made chemicals that accumulate in human breast milk. The revived center will expand human health research at Scripps.

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