Alaska biologist is doing groundbreaking contaminants research

The Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 30, 2010 

Frank von Hippel's lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage looks more like the section of the pet store where they sell guppies than a place where groundbreaking research on the endocrine system is taking place.

The air is warm and moist and smells earthy.

Fish tanks with green algae stack the shelves.

On one bottom shelf, a foot-long pike named Miss Scarlet watches passers-by.

But the lab, tucked in an unassuming building that could easily be mistaken for a maintenance shop, is where von Hippel, an evolutionary biologist, has been pursuing nationally regarded research on the endocrine system of the three-spined stickleback, a three-inch fish that could hold in its biology keys to how ingested chemical contaminants are affecting people.

This month, von Hippel and colleagues received the first installment of a prestigious $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their work on a chemical called perchlorate for another five years.

Perchlorate is an unregulated additive found in road flares, fireworks and vehicle air bags and other consumer products. It is also heavily used in rockets and artillery. Most Americans have some trace of it in their bodies from drinking tainted groundwater or eating vegetables or fruits that picked it up through irrigation, von Hippel said.

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