Embryonic exposure to an aqueous coal dust extract results in gene expression alterations associated with the development and function of connective tissue and the hematological system, immunological and inflammatory disease, and cancer in zebrafish†
Coal mining is one of the economic activities with the greatest impact on environmental quality. At all stages contaminants are released as particulates such as coal dust. The first aim of this study was to obtain an aqueous coal dust extract and characterize its composition in terms of trace elements by ICP-MS. In addition, the developmental toxicity of the aqueous coal extract was evaluated using zebrafish (Danio rerio) after exposure to different concentrations (0–1000 ppm; μg mL−1) to establish acute toxicity, morphology and transcriptome changes. Trace elements within the aqueous coal dust extract present at the highest concentrations (>10 ppb) included Sr, Zn, Ba, As, Cu and Se. In addition, Cd and Pb were found in lower concentrations. No significant difference in mortality was observed (p > 0.05), but a delay in hatching was found at 0.1 and 1000 ppm (p < 0.05). No significant differences in morphological characteristics were observed in any of the treatment groups (p > 0.05). Transcriptomic results of zebrafish larvae revealed alterations in 77, 61 and 1376 genes in the 1, 10, and 100 ppm groups, respectively. Gene ontology analysis identified gene alterations associated with the development and function of connective tissue and the hematological system, as well as pathways associated with apoptosis, the cell cycle, transcription, and oxidative stress including the MAPK signaling pathway. In addition, altered genes were associated with cancer; connective tissue, muscular, and skeletal disorders; and immunological and inflammatory diseases. Overall, this is the first study to characterize gene expression alterations in response to developmental exposure to aqueous coal dust residue from coal mining with transcriptome results signifying functions and systems to target in future studies.