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Arsenic exposure: Exploring the intersection of environmental health and susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in water, food, air and soil. It is odorless and tasteless. In its inorganic form, arsenic is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen to humans. Long-term exposure is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other negative health effects (Sanders, 2012).
The emerging science on the study of coronaviruses poses the question of how exposure to inorganic arsenic may be linked to health impacts caused by the new coronavirus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2). Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill are using genetically engineered mice that metabolize arsenic like humans to in order to investigate the extent to which exposure to inorganic arsenic may be linked to health impacts, such as susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. This research is the focus of a digital interactive notebook (DIAN), which is a two-part interactive Google slide set that can be updated as research unfolds.
This digital interactive notebook consists of two parts:
- Part I: Chemistry and Environmental Science describes the chemistry of arsenic and how it contaminates drinking water. Students explore the forms of arsenic and how it enters the water supply by analyzing maps of North Carolina while considering the factors of geology, soil, and the watershed. Students engage with the hypothesis developed by researchers to test how chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic enhances susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity of COVID-19.
- Part II: Biology and Biotechnology describes research taking place at UNC-Chapel Hill to test the effects of arsenic exposure on susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. Students learn about the use of homologous recombination as a tool to genetically engineer “humanized” mouse models and are introduced to factorial design as an approach to test the effects of multiple variables (e.g., gender and arsenic dose) on a response (susceptibility SARS-CoV-2).
Dana Haine, MS, UNC-Chapel Hill, Sarah Yelton, MS, UNC-Chapel, Hill Linda Dion, NBCT, Holly Springs High School, Monica Strada, MAT, Research Triangle High School. & James Xenakis, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill
Owen Duckworth, PhD, North Carolina State University, Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill, & John Snouwaert, PhD, UNC-Chapel Hill
UNC-Chapel Hill Superfund Research Program (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P42ES031007) & Center for Public Engagement with Science, UNC Institute for the Environment
These resources have been developed with funding from the NIEHS to the UNC Superfund Research Program. Individual lessons are generally suitable for high school science courses in biology, environmental science, chemistry and are aligned with both NC Science Standards and Next Generation Science Standards as appropriate.
- DNA Wrap: Packaging Matters | Slides
In this lesson, students learn that the environment can alter the way our genes are expressed, making even identical twins different.
- DNA Methylation & Cadmium Exposure in utero | Slides
This activity features the research of a scientist who is funded by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Superfund Research Program to investigate the link between exposure to cadmium and associated human health effects through the mechanism of epigenetic modification to DNA.
- Investigating Prenatal Arsenic Exposure & Altered Gene Expression worksheet
A data interpretation activity for students.
- Understanding Bioavailability of Arsenic and Lead Fact Sheet | Facilitator Guide | Slides
Learn how bioavailability can affect people’s exposure to metals like arsenic and lead.
Understanding Bioavailability of Arsenic and Lead in Soils at Hazardous Waste Sites (podcast)
Exploring Movement of and Exposure to Other Toxic Chemicals
- Journey of a PCB Molecule | Slides
This activity was adapted from the chapter “Journey to the Ends of the Earth” in the book Our Stolen Future.
- PCB Biomagnification
Participants will experience how organisms are exposed to toxic chemicals by assuming the roles of different organisms in an aquatic food chain
- Investigating the Exposome: Vinyl Chloride Exposure, DNA Damage & Repair | Slides
A data interpretation activity for students.
Article in the American Biology Teacher (October 2018)
- Demonstrating Susceptibility
This demonstration provides students with visual evidence that if two individuals are exposed to the same dose of a chemical, the individual with the smaller body size will have a greater concentration of the chemical in his/her body.
- Understanding ppm and ppb with Serial Dilution
Students will perform a serial dilution of food coloring to create highly diluted solutions to learn about the units, parts per million (ppm) and parts per billion (ppb), scientists often use to describe chemical contamination of water soil.
- Investigating a Superfund Site
(note: instructions are for investigating any site in the southeast region of state. Use list of NPL sites below for specific sites contaminated with arsenic in North Carolina)
- Aberdeen Pesticide Dumps, NC
- Barber Orchard, NC
- Cape Fear Wood Preserving, NC
- Gurley Pesticide Burial, NC
- Horton Iron and Metal, NC
- A Case Study of A Civil Action
After viewing an excerpt from the film, A Civil Action, students assume the role of environmental scientists and apply their knowledge of water and hazardous waste contamination to create a plan to help lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, try the case.
- Introducing Students to Environmental Justice
Students are introduced to the concept of environmental justice by considering a North Carolina case study that involved a hazardous waste landfill and is often credited with launching the national environmental justice movement.
- Water Muddle Up & Clean Up
This activity is designed to safely model the ways in which pollutants and hazardous chemicals may react when they reach water and the cumulative effect of land uses on water quality.