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Old Dominion University is becoming a focal point for biogeochemistry, thanks to a federally funded project being conducted on the health of the Elizabeth River.

Research groups from New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts were recent guests of Old Dominion's chemistry and biochemistry, biological sciences, and ocean, earth, and atmospheric sciences departments after the U.S. Office of Naval Research's Marine Environmental Quality Program, which funds the Elizabeth River project, recommended that the groups collaborate with Old Dominion researchers.

At the center of the gathering were two Old Dominion projects.

One, investigated by John Donat, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and David Burdige, professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, is designed to determine the potentially toxic and nontoxic forms of copper, cadmium, zinc and manganese and how they cycle between the Elizabeth River's water and sediments.

The other, by Donat and Andrew Gordon, professor of biological sciences, is examining how microorganisms in the river respond to copper in the water and produce organic substances to render the metal nontoxic.

"Because the Elizabeth River is in Old Dominion's backyard and because of the magnitude and diversity of the Navy's activities in the river, (the university) is now a focal point for biogeochemical studies of the river, parts of which are some of the most polluted in the United States," Donat said.

"Instead of telling us to go work in North Carolina, Massachusetts or New York, ONR recommended that they (the researchers from these other areas) should come here and study the Elizabeth River. '

On its visit to Old Dominion, the group from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C., was supplied with water samples collected by Donat's group aboard the Old Dominion research vessel Linwood Holton.

They also used research space and equipment in the Alfriend Chemistry Building to aid their studies of the uptake of copper, cadmium, zinc and manganese by algae and how these organisms differentiate the harmful from the nontoxic forms of these metals.

The group from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts examined potential sources of metals from groundwater in the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay by taking samples of water from locations along the Eastern

A Cornell University researcher also visited Old Dominion as part of her work to measure how plants secrete substances called phytochelatins, which bind metals in water and detoxify it.

Donat and Burdige's work has been funded by the Office of Naval Research since 1993. The Navy is interested their studies because of concern about water quality near its facilities, Donat said.

This article was posted on: June 14, 2000

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