The University of San Francisco: College of Arts & Sciences

Spotlight: Allison Luengen

This past May, Allison Luengen, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Sciences Department, had two of her students present a poster at the Northern California Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (NorCal Setac).  The two students, Heather Kaufman in the MSEM program and Brandon Oldham an undergrad in the ENVS program, presented a poster entitled, “Spatial Variability of Methylmercury in San Francisco Bay Sediments.”  Allison explains a little bit about the research below.

“My lab is focused on the analysis of mercury and methylmercury, which is the form that biomagnifies in the food chain.  Methylmercury is a neurotoxicant that can affect the developing fetus so there is understandable concern about the high concentrations of methylmercury that are present in fish, including fish from San Francisco Bay.  The problem is that once the methylmercury has accumulated in fish, it is impossible to remove.  So efforts focus on understanding and controlling how methylmercury gets into the fish in the first place. One key area of inquiry is the bacteria- particularly those types of bacteria that are responsible for transforming mercury into the methylated form that is the neurotoxin.  Those bacteria live in sediments, particularly sediments that are low in oxygen. Unfortunately, very little is known about which of these bacteria are present in natural sediments and how the types of bacteria are related to the amount of methylmercury in the sediments.  In conjunction with my collaborator at Cal State East Bay, my students have been collecting samples of sediments from San Francisco Bay.  In my lab, they have been analyzing the concentration of methylmercury in those sediments.  My collaborator is working on the microbial ecology end of things.  At the NorCal Setac conference, my students were presenting their analyses of methylmercury in San Francisco Bay sediments.”