Student Research with Fathead Minnows Presented in Harrisburg

by Tom McNamara | Mar 31, 2015

Three DeSales University students, in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Natural Sciences, completed a research project measuring the effects of waste chemicals from a sewage treatment plant (STP) on the reproductive behavior of fathead minnows. Their findings were presented at the 13th Annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol – Pennsylvania (URC-PA) poster conference held on March 5 in Harrisburg, Pa.

risser_posterpresent_315Work on the study began in 2014, led by biology major, Julia McMahon ’15. McMahon was mentored by Dr. Joseph Colosi, associate professor of biology, and assisted by fellow students Savanna Risser ’16 and Alexa Dunlap ’16, as well as Dr. Joseph M. Leese, assistant professor of biology. 

The researchers were interested in first measuring the amount of environmental estrogens released from a local wastewater treatment plant and secondly, determining if these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) could affect the reproductive behavior of male fathead minnows.

Minnows were placed in wire cages in the water upstream and downstream the STP for three weeks and then returned to the lab at DeSales, where their reproductive behavior was compared to control animals. Minnows placed downstream from the STP showed significant decreases in sex-typical reproductive behavior when compared to controls, while minnows placed upstream showed no differences.

This pattern correlates with elevated levels of estrogen recorded downstream of the STP. This study contributes to the growing body of evidence that EDC’s present in sources of drinking water can affect the physiology and behavior of vertebrate animals, including humans.

Risser (above right) presented the group’s findings at the State Capitol, where congressmen and advocacy representatives discussed the findings and her experience of conducting undergraduate research at DeSales University. Forty eight students were selected to present.

The URC-PA poster conference is an educational event allowing undergraduate students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to showcase their research talents to the Commonwealth’s key decision-makers. 


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Tom McNamara
Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University
2255 Station Avenue
Center Valley, PA 18034

610.282.1100 x1219
Tom.McNamara@desales.edu