Concentrations

Graduate studies in environmental toxicology provide a broad, interdisciplinary education.  The program gives in-depth training focusing on a specific area of expertise through course work and research.  Students choose on of four major areas of concentration:

  • Cellular and Molecular Toxicology
  • Ecotoxicology and Environmental Chemistry
  • Food and Nutritional Toxicology
  • Risk Assessment, Management, and Public Policy (minor)

Cellular and Molecular Toxicology

Research in cellular and molecular toxicology at Cornell is primarily concerned with the molecular mechanisms by which chemicals affect biological systems and induce changes in organs, cells, and their molecular components. Students concentrating in this area may choose projects which will provide opportunities to:

  • Use in vivo or in vitro model systems to evaluate toxicity;
  • Study the effects of environmental chemicals and potential therapeutic agents on molecular mechanisms controlling cell proliferation and differentiation;
  • Investigate cellular and molecular mechanisms of target-organ toxicity;
  • Study mechanisms by which organisms develop resistance to pesticides and drugs;
  • Investigate cellular, molecular factors modulating chemically induced toxicity and/or carcinogenicity.

Courses taken by students in this concentration typically include biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology and statistics. These may be followed by advanced courses in areas such as developmental biology, neurobiology, genetics, cytogenetics, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, signal transduction, insect toxicology or pharmacology.

The PhD program for the cellular and molecular toxicology concentration is administered by the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program.

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Chemistry

Research in ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry focuses on the identification, detection and fate of chemicals in the environment and biota, and their effects on natural ecosystems and processes. Active research projects in this concentration offer students the opportunity to investigate the following:

  • Development of analytical methods for residue analysis and measurement of chemicals in soil, air, water, plant and animal tissues from field locations;
  • Use of natural and model systems to study the fates of environmental contaminants in air, soil, water and food webs;
  • Mechanisms of biotic and abiotic degradation, including biological and chemical remediation;
  • Effects of atmospheric pollutants on physiological and metabolic processes of plants and animals;
  • Plants as accumulators and vectors of toxic substances;
  • Chronic effects of water-borne contaminants on aquatic organisms.

Students choosing this concentration typically supplement their core courses in environmental toxicology with selected courses in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, soil science, plant physiology and statistics. Advanced courses available to them include subjects such as environmental quality, ecology and systematics, pharmacology and analytical chemistry.

Food and Nutritional Toxicology

Research in nutritional toxicology at Cornell falls broadly in two categories: the biological effects of naturally occurring toxicants or potentially toxic substances added to food and the influence of nutritional status on the responses of organisms exposed to toxic substances. Students choosing nutritional toxicology as a concentration will find research projects that provide them opportunities to:

  • Work with animal models to evaluate:
    1. toxicity of naturally occurring or intentionally added non-nutrient substances in foods;
    2. influence of diet or nutritional status on carcinogenesis or the response to specific toxicants;
    3. dietary effects on behavior due to toxic exposure in utero and during early development;
  • Work with human subjects to determine the influence of specific nutrients on metabolic responses to toxic substances at levels similar to those encountered in every day life;
  • Use of in vitro and cell culture techniques to ascertain mechanisms by which toxic substances interact with specific nutrients or their metabolites.

Students concentrating in nutritional toxicology typically supplement the core courses in environmental toxicology with courses or seminars in nutrition, food science, biochemistry and molecular biology, cell biology and statistics. Advanced courses available to them include specialized courses on macro- and micro-nutrients, nutrition and behavior and nutritional epidemiology.

Risk Assessment, Management, and Public Policy (minor concentration only)

Research in risk assessment, management and public policy brings together the medical, environmental, cultural and social features of toxicological problems. The approaches and lessons learned by environmental toxicologists now drive important decisions at all levels – from international laws to personal actions. Research topics include measurement, modeling and analysis of exposure to chemical agents; evaluation of the methodology employed to weigh the evidence; and resolution of uncertainties. Such studies ultimately direct massive resources at major problems of health, food/fiber production, occupational safety, and environmental management in cities and natural areas.

  • Regional modeling of fish and wildlife exposure to PCBs particularly for indigenous subsistence consumers and threatened species;
  • Evaluation of vapor and aerosol exposure to solvent-contaminated shower water in households;
  • Applying advanced nanobiotechnology to dramatically expand population-level assessment of hormonal disrupters;
  • Demonstrating that simulation of uncertainties, rather than arbitrary regulations, provides a more realistic means of protecting those most at risk.