Team:Carnegie Mellon/Project Description


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Sensor That Reports Endocrine Activating Molecules

Hormones are molecules that allow cells to communicate with each other and are used by organisms to alter growth and metabolism. The steroid hormones such as estrogen can diffuse across the plasma membrane, bind their receptor in the cytoplasm, migrate to the nucleus and act as transcription factors to alter cell’s physiology and behavior. Naturally occurring steroid hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. 

Detection of hormones in the environment has raised concerns in recent years because of their potential to affect both humans and wildlife. Estrogens from natural, synthetic, plant, and fungal sources can manifest endocrine disrupting properties and even at low concentrations can have harmful effects due to receptor activation. Estrogenic activity can occur in water sources including waste, drinking and freshwater. In freshwater, estrogens are harmful to the ecosystems, feminizing fish and disrupting the overall populations of organisms in the ecosystem. Estrogenic substances can also be present in what we drink, however since the presence of hormones in water is a relatively new area of study, there have been no previous restrictions or regulations regarding filtration of estrogenic compounds. 

Due to concern with the compounds in water, we are developing a sensor to detect the molecules in water that will bind to the estrogen receptor. We anticipate that our STREAM, Sensor That Reports Endocrine Activating Molecules, will be sensitive and informative of water quality. A BioNetGen model of the sensor and NetLogo model of fish populations were constructed to improve our understanding of these systems.