SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  8 December 2011
Volume 12 Issue 12

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You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks!

Alan Samel (Dupont Crop Protection) and Chris Ingersoll (US Geological Survey)

Thursday morning in the SNA 32nd Annual Meeting, the session You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: Research Applications of Standard Tests took attendees down memory lane, but the session was not spent reminiscing about the good old days. Instead, speakers took a critical look at some standards for conducting water, sediment or bioaccumulation tests and discussed ways to adapt, refine, improve, or better use these methods for laboratory testing.

Refinements to the standards were described including use of reconstituted waters, loading, feeding and age of test organisms, and adapting the methods to test more species and conduct multi-generation life-cycle tests, to name a few. A lot can be gained in better understanding the responses to a stressor by going outside the standardized testing box. There were also presentations that focused on ways to optimize current standards. Speakers provided data supporting changes that would improve the overall quality of the study and set the stage for revising some of these 'old dogs'.

A couple young pups described ways to use the old dogs, for example, testing organisms not included in the method. It is important to consider a species more relevant to the area of concern. Sometimes the organism in the method is difficult to handle and there may be a better test organism out there just waiting to be included in the test method. As we look more into the ecology of systems, we find that the standard tests provide a firm foundation for testing. And we continue to ask if the method works for new or novel test organisms or if the method can be modified to allow for testing using the same study methods.

Tweaking the methods was a common theme among many of the presenters. If we change the diet will survival increase or will dissolved oxygen drop and survival decrease? Or, what is the difference in response if we use 1-hour-old midge larvae rather than 3-day-old larvae, and what are the challenges? And the biggest tweak to the standards was looking at multi-generational studies. Try to imagine five daphnid lifecycle tests bundled into one large multi-generational test. That would be an old dog times 10!

The beauty of the old dogs is the large databases for each set of studies. There are decades of data at your fingertips. But, beware; data quality is an issue that can not be ignored. Mining for data can be like walking through a minefield. One presenter discussed the issues of data mining and provided insights that we, as scientists, need to understand and recognize in our ever-continuing search for a source of high quality information.

You can teach an old dog new tricks; the only limiting factor is one’s own creativity and the need to learn through continuous questions.

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