SensoryTox - Impairment of sensory organ development in petroleum-exposed fish early life stages

Project duration: 2021–2022

Funding: Excellence cluster RobustNature

Princinple investigators
  • Dr. Sarah Johann
  • Prof. Dr. Virginie Lecaudey
  • Dr. Lisa Baumann
  • Dr. Frederic Strobl
  • Prof. Dr. Alexander Vogel
  • Prof. Dr. Werner Brack
  • Prof. Dr. Eric Helfrich
  • Dr. Carolin Völker

Coordination of the subproject at E3T
  • Dr. Sarah Johann

Participants involved at E3T
  • Dr. Sarah Johann
  • MSc. Jakob Pfefferle
  • BSc. Bianca Dechent

Project description

The risk for the contamination of the environment with crude or refined oil is of high relevance not only for marine but also for freshwater ecosystems, considering incidents related to tanker collisions, offshore oil production platforms, shipping traffic or accidents in huge industry sectors or private households. The recent extreme flood event in Germany (summer 2021) is a particular example for unexpected petroleum contamination in freshwater ecosystems through thousands of tons of fuel oil released from household heating or vehicle tanks. Several previous laboratory and long-term monitoring field studies demonstrated that spilled oil can have severe consequences for the exposed biota with especially embryonic and larval stages of developing fish being highly sensitive. The toxicity of petroleum products has mainly been attributed to hydrocarbons (e.g., polycyclic aromatic compounds) causing acute as well as chronic adverse effects such as genotoxicity or carcinogenicity. Though morphological alterations and especially cardiotoxicity as modes of action are well described, the underlying diversity of molecular mechanisms and additional mechanism of toxicity such as the increasingly described impairment of the visual system are not well understood.

Aims and objectives
The overall goal of the proposed project is to investigate and provide detailed information on the oil-induced toxicity during fish embryo development with the focus on the impairment of the visual system and other sensory organs (overview scheme of project design see Figure 1). In particular, the present project aims to:

  • improve the understanding of the underlying modes of action associated with the impairment on the visual system in oil-exposed fish embryos and larvae
  • investigate the impact of oil exposure on other sensory organs like the lateral line and olfactory epithelium
  • evaluate the role of chemical dispersion as an oil spill response measure in fish embryo toxicity


Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Henner Hollert

Goethe University Frankfurt
Biologicum, Campus Riedberg
Max-von-Laue-Str. 13
60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Room: 3.319
Phone: +49 (0)69 798 42171
Fax: +49 (0)69 798 42161
Email: hollert(at)bio(dot)uni-frankfurt(dot)de

Former Affiliation: