Purdue University researchers have harnessed the sensitivity of days-old fish embryos to create a fiber optic-based tool to detect a range of harmful chemicals. By measuring rates of oxygen use in developing fish, the technology could reveal the presence of minute levels of toxic substances. It could thus warn of environmental contamination, noted Marshall Porterfield, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue.

Respiration is often the first of a fish's bodily functions affected by contaminants. The fiber optic technology quickly monitors this activity and produces results within minutes, said Porterfield. It detects four common pollutants: atrazine, cadmium, pentachlorophenol, and cyanide.

The most widely-used analogous technology monitors gill movements and other activities of bluegill fish with electrodes secured to the fish's bodies. Porterfield believes the Purdue system could be advantageous as it records respiration in a sensitive life stage, and the optical equipment doesn't consume oxygen or require the same degree of calibration.

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