Fish that change sex because of marine pollution have become a focus of environmental concern, but British and Italian scientists have become award-winners by pointing out that the organic chlorine chemicals responsible for these effects can have more subtle and damaging effects on less familar marine life.
They have been working on the effects of organochlorine compounds on featherstars, relations of starfish that live in sediment and so are particularly vulnerable to pollution.
Professor Thorndyke says that the award-winning work involves cloning the genes that are altered by contact with a standard mix of industrial pollutants.
This will allow echinoderms such as featherstars to be used as pollution indicators and illuminate just how the pollution affects them at a molecular and genetic level.
The organochlorides, which are produced by a wide range of industrial processes, mimic hormones and can have subtle effects on featherstars including accelerated growth and regeneration.
The new research will allow them to be used as monitors by showing how large an effect is caused by different levels of exposure to pollution.