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Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Elevated Maternal Dietary Selenium in the Model Amphibian Xenopus laevis



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Selenium (Se) is a contaminant of potential concern in aquatic systems due to its efficient incorporation into food webs, potential for bioaccumulation at higher trophic levels, and role as a developmental toxicant in oviparous vertebrates. While the presence of embryonic/larval deformities due to in ovo Se exposure is considered the most sensitive toxicological endpoint, elevated levels of dietary Se have also been associated with alterations to bioenergetic and hormonal status of adult female fishes, which consequently could lead to diminished fitness and impaired reproduction. Adverse reproductive effects in fishes have been the primary focus of Se research thus far, while studies focusing on Se toxicity in amphibians in any regard are severely lacking. The US EPA has recently proposed a new set of criteria for the protection of freshwater aquatic life with regards to acceptable Se tissue threshold levels; however, these values were generated based on effects observed in fishes with negligible existent data on amphibians to assist in this process. Thus, the overall goal of this thesis research was to characterize the reproductive and developmental effects of elevated dietary Se exposure in Xenopus laevis, in order to provide a foundation for amphibian related Se research that may assist in establishing effective regulatory guidelines that protect this highly vulnerable and ecologically valuable taxon. The research presented in this thesis was performed as one large generational bioassay with the analysis of experimental variables divided into three sections in order to evaluate the effects of elevated in ovo Se exposure via maternal transfer on early and late stages of larval development in addition to the overall fitness of adult X. laevis females after a dietary exposure. Adult X. laevis females were fed a diet augmented with L-selenomethionine (SeMet) for 68 days after which they were bred with untreated males. The resultant embryos were incubated up to 5 days post fertilization (dpf) to determine fertilization success, hatchability, mortality and frequency/severity of malformations. Subsamples of 5 dpf tadpoles were selected and raised to completion of metamorphosis for evaluation of mortality, growth and maturation rate. In addition, tissue and blood samples as well as morphometric indices were collected from X. laevis females, upon completion of the exposure period and subsequent breeding, to ascertain Se tissue distribution, triglyceride and glycogen levels, cortisol concentrations and the overall health status of SeMet-treated females. Within the data gathered throughout this research, a foundation of knowledge characterizing Se toxicity in amphibians was established along with the development of an early life stage toxicity threshold for the frequency of teratogenic abnormalities in X. laevis. The bioenergetic and stress status in addition to the overall body condition of adult females after a 68 day dietary exposure showed no significant differences among treatment groups. The concentrations of Se measured in the ovary, egg, liver and muscle samples increased with female dietary Se levels with strong positive relationships between egg Se concentrations and the other three tissues being illustrated. Elevated in ovo Se exposure had no biologically significant effect on fertilization success, hatchability or mortality within the first 5 dpf; however, the frequency and severity of morphological abnormalities was significantly greater in tadpoles from the highest dose group, with eye lens abnormalities most prominently observed. Late stage larval survival and growth was unaffected by in ovo Se exposure; however, the distribution of developmental stages observed at the set time point when 50% of tadpoles completed metamorphosis showed a larger portion of tadpoles at earlier stages of development in the highest dose group despite no overall change in time to metamorphosis. The results of this thesis research in its entirety suggest that amphibians, as represented by X. laevis, are potentially more tolerant to elevated in ovo and dietary Se exposures than other oviparous vertebrates studied to date; however, without sufficient data for comparison it is unknown whether X. laevis is a tolerant, average or sensitive species among amphibians.



selenium, selenomethionine, amphibian, Xenopus laevis, maternal transfer



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Toxicology Centre




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