This program will explore the molecular events that determine the biological activity and toxicity of selected xenobiotic molecules--chemicals not normally produced by the body. We will examine the physiologic systems that process these toxins in the body, and pathologic reactions they can cause. Using the tools of epidemiology, we will also investigate public health and environmental justice questions inherent in the unequal vulnerability of different populations to exposure to toxic substances.
Xenobiotic molecules include natural products, drugs and chemicals released in the environment by human activity. We will focus on specific xenobiotic molecules, which might include drugs like ethinyl estradiol (birth control pill), natural carcinogens like aflatoxin, and lead. For each molecule, we will examine in detail the molecular mechanisms by which they act on cellular or physiological processes. How do chemicals treat a disease or cause cancer? Are all people (or species) equally sensitive to these therapeutic and/or toxic effects? How are chemicals metabolized and what molecular targets does a xenobiotic molecule alter?
To help understand the biochemical actions of these molecules, this program will examine pathways used in their biotransformation. We will examine cellular signal pathways in detail, and induced perturbations of normal signal processes. We will also use tools from modern genetics and bioinformatics to examine how genetic differences can influence the effects of these chemicals.
We will explore the physiologic impact of xenobiotic molecules by examining the organ systems that are exposed to and process toxins, including the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Using tools of epidemiology and public health, we will examine how to use information about populations and the types of individuals affected to make decisions about the potential hazards of these materials. We will study how these tools have assisted vulnerable communities to document their unique toxic exposures.
We will emphasize data analysis and interpretation obtained from primary literature reports or agency databases. Quantitative reasoning will be a major component of class examples, workshop and homework assignments. This program will also include laboratory work that will measure the mutagenic properties of test molecules, toxicology on simple models systems, and dissection and histologic investigation of organ systems that are important in examining toxic impacts. Students will have the opportunity to examine a xenobiotic molecule of their choice, and its impact on a species or ecologic system. Embedded in these activities are principles of cell biology and biochemistry, physiology and epidemiology.
Entering students should have two quarters of general chemistry, and two quarters of biology that includes topics on cell structure, biomolecules, and molecular biology.
Course Reference Numbers
biology, chemistry, public health, health professions, and environmental studies.
All work planned for this program is designed so that students successfully completing program requirements will earn upper division science in all program areas.