RNA-seq reveals potential gene biomarkers in fathead minnows ( Pimephales promelas) for exposure to treated wastewater effluent

Environ Sci Process Impacts. 2022 Aug 8. doi: 10.1039/d2em00222a. Online ahead of print.


Discharged wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent greatly contributes to the generation of complex mixtures of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in aquatic environments which often contain neuropharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants that may impact neurological function. However, there is a paucity of knowledge on the neurological impacts of these exposures to aquatic organisms. In this study, caged fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) were exposed in situ in a temperate-region effluent-dominated stream (i.e., Muddy Creek) in Coralville, Iowa, USA upstream and downstream of a WWTP effluent outfall. The pharmaceutical composition of Muddy Creek was recently characterized by our team and revealed many compounds there were at a low microgram to high nanogram per liter concentration. Total RNA sequencing analysis on brain tissues revealed 280 gene isoforms that were significantly differentially expressed in male fish and 293 gene isoforms in female fish between the upstream and downstream site. Only 66 (13%) of such gene isoforms overlapped amongst male and female fish, demonstrating sex-dependent impacts on neuronal gene expression. By using a systems biology approach paired with functional enrichment analyses, we identified several potential novel gene biomarkers for treated effluent exposure that could be used to expand monitoring of environmental effects with respect to complex CEC mixtures. Lastly, when comparing the results of this study to those that relied on a single-compound approach, there was relatively little overlap in terms of gene-specific effects. This discovery brings into question the application of single-compound exposures in accurately characterizing environmental risks of complex mixtures and for gene biomarker identification.