Department of Effect-Directed Analysis - Danube. Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ

Department of Effect-Directed Analysis

Modern life, wellbeing, business, mobility and communication depend on the use of large numbers of synthetic chemicals: plastics, many additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants, bodycare products, pharmaceuticals, dyes, pesticides and many more. Many of these chemicals eventually end up in the environment, in water, sediments, soils and the atmosphere. They do not occur one by one but as complex mixtures. Microorganisms, plants, animals and humans are exposed to these mixtures. What are the effects? How do they affect health, fitness and reproduction? Which are acutely toxic?

In the Department of Effect-Directed Analysis we develop and apply tools to unravel these complex mixtures and to understand the cause and effect relationships between contamination and impact. By identifying those chemicals that are responsible for adverse effects on organisms we support risk assessment and the efficient reduction of hazardous environmental contamination.

The overall approach we are using is effect-directed analysis (EDA). This approach can be applied to different environmental matrices, to tissues and body fluids of animals and humans and also to technical mixtures. It is also helpful in unravelling mixtures of the transformation products which result from microbial processes or exposure to sunlight. The key elements of EDA are firstly biotests that allow the effect of samples and chemicals on cells, organisms and communities to be detected.Secondly, we use methods to reduce the complexity of the chemical mixture by statistical means or chromatographic fractionation in order to separate out candidate fractions and chemicals that might be responsible for the effects we observe. We call them "candidate toxicants".Thirdly, we use multi-target and non-target chemical analysis to identify the candidate chemicals.

Our aim is to assess and prioritise complex contamination particularly in European water resources, unravel exposure to toxicants in multiply stressed aquatic ecosystems and support the analysis of the exposome in humans and aquatic organisms.