Susan Whittemore, PhD
I am an animal physiologist by training and currently teach a variety of upper-level physiology courses including Comparative Animal Physiology, Endocrinology and Endocrine Disruption, and Introduction to Neurobiology. In these courses, I emphasize reading and discussion of primary literature and have begun to introduce open pedagogical techniques and use of open source materials. I also teach one of our introductory courses for Biology majors, Molecules and Cells,(a "flipped course" developed by my colleagues that uses open source materials) and a citizen-science course for non-science majors called Winter World.
I maintain an active undergraduate research program that has been funded through the NH-INBRE program. My students and I are currently investigating whether certain common pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) are toxic during development. PAHs are released into the environment with the incomplete combustion of organic matter including fossil fuels, wood, and tobacco. For these studies, we use Xenopus laevis, the African clawed frog, and maintain a breeding colony of these amphibians to generate embryos for our research. Xenopus is an important vertebrate model system for understanding developmental processes including those of humans.
To date, we have found that developmental exposure to certain PAHs leads to alterations in heart rate, arrhythmia, and impaired cardiac conductivity in Xenopus embryos during heart development. Our gene expression studies using qRTPR have revealed PAH-induced changes in expression of cytochrome P450 type 1A (cyp1a) and in two cardiac transcription factors (tbx5 and nkx2.5). We are currently assessing whether longer-term exposures to lower PAH doses are also cardiotoxic and plan to determine the consequences of compromised cardiac function to other systems (e.g. development of the vascular system).
We have also begun to develop behavioral assays for tadpoles to assess the impact of PAH exposure on nervous system function.