First Advisor

Elise F. Granek

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Environmental Science and Management


Environmental Science and Management





Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 61 pages)


Approximately 48% of Americans use prescription drugs within each 30-day period, and there are signs this trend is increasing. Although many studies track pharmaceuticals’ fates in contaminating waterways, only fairly recent efforts have examined the potential impacts of these drugs on non-target organisms. The antibiotics sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim, often prescribed together to treat bacterial infections, have been detected worldwide in marine and estuarine environments at concentrations up to 700-800 ng/L each. Toxic effects of these drugs have been identified in freshwater organisms, with synergistic effects observed in short-term studies of mixtures of the two; however, little research has examined possible sub-lethal and longer-term effects of antibiotics in environmentally-relevant mixture concentrations on marine organisms. I examined the long-term effects of mixtures of these two antibiotics in species of a marine system: marine microalgal species, and marine mussels, to determine whether the levels currently present in waterways affect organism health and reproduction.

Microalgal species may be among the most sensitive organisms to pharmaceutical contaminants based on ecotoxicity research. I exposed three species of marine microalgae (Isochrysis galbana, Chaetoceros neogracile, and Nannochloropsis oculata) to environmentally-relevant mixtures of sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim and examined their three-week growth rates. I found that for each species, the antibiotic treatments significantly suppressed algal growth. Specifically, I found that sulfamethoxazole was a driving factor in suppression of C. neogracile and I. galbana growth, while N. oculata responded more sensitively to a broader range of treatment mixture levels, which also included trimethoprim-only treatment groups and mixtures. These results on marine microalgae address critical data gaps, and identify the impacts of pharmaceuticals on marine primary producers, which could have direct ecosystem implications to higher trophic levels.

Antibiotic pharmaceuticals can also affect marine mussel health, based on previous study of sub-cellular endpoints. I hypothesized that the important benthic foundational species, the Mytilus californianus mussel, would be significantly impacted by long-term 12-week exposure to environmentally-relevant concentrations and mixtures of sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. Specifically, I measured growth rate, feeding rate, condition index, and gonando-somatic index as indicators of whole-organism and reproductive health. Sulfamethoxazole concentrations, in particular, and trimethoprim to a lesser extent, suppressed mussel growth and significantly affected condition index and gonandosomatic index over time. The results of this study offer an understanding of how an intertidal system responds to chronic presence of antibiotic mixtures in the water, and a more complete picture of the environmental consequences of pharmaceutical contaminants released into marine ecosystems at ever-growing rates.


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A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Environmental Science and Management

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