Aquatic biology of trace metals

We are studying the biology of toxic metals by investigating their ecophysiology and ecotoxicological significance.

Our research is mainly focused on:
  • the biology of essential and non-essential trace metals in freshwater, estuarine and marine invertebrates
  • the significance of body concentrations of toxic metals including uptake mechanisms, biodynamic modelling of accumulation and detoxification
  • the biomonitoring of trace metals in aquatic environments
  • the ecotoxicology of metaliferous nanoparticles
Projects include:

Biodynamic modelling and the significance of trace metal concentrations in invertebrates

Different aquatic organisms have very different accumulated metal concentrations. The application of biodynamic modelling and an understanding of the processes of detoxification are key to understanding the ecophysiology and ecotoxicology of trace metals.

Trophic transfer of trace metals along marine and estuarine food chains

This research is seeking an explanation of the fundamental principles that control the dietary availability of metals in food to invertibrate suspension feeders and to carnivores feeding on invertebrate prey.

Biomonitoring of trace metal contamination in aquatic environments

We are developing a suite of cosmopolitan biomonitors of known biology to decipher the different sources of bioavailable toxic metals to aquatic organisms, with case studies in the Baltic Sea, Brazil, Montana (USA), New Zealand, Silesia (Poland) and SW England.

Reactivity and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles: risks to the aquatic environment

Commercially engineered nanoparticles containing toxic metals are on the market and therefore entering aquatic environments, with unknown potential ecotoxicological consequences. We are assessing the ecotoxicity of well-defined nanoparticles to assess the hazard potential of these nanoparticles in aquatic environments.


A biomonitor is an organism which accumulates trace metals in its tissues, the accumulated metal concentration of which provides a relative measure of the total amount of metal taken up by all routes by that organism, integrated over a preceding time period. Biomonitoring is the most direct method of measuring temporal and spatial variation of trace metal bioavailabilities to aquatic organisms caused by metal contamination.

Research leader

Sam Luoma and Phil Rainbow in Restronguet Creek
Prof Phil Rainbow

Head of the Life Sciences Department, focusing on the biology of trace metals in aquatic invertebrates.


  • Brian Smith
  • Dr Farhan Khan (Postdoctoral Researcher)
  • Dr Judit Kalman (Marie Curie Research Fellow)

Project collaborators