Research Lab


seatox lab members
Research Interests

The SeaTox Lab @UCIBIO is a multidisciplinary group that makes use of Toxicopathology, Aquatic Toxicology and Molecular Toxicology in three main areas: 1) testing engineered substances and materials for biotechnological and biomedical applications; 2) linking aquatic ecosystem status and human health with emphasis on the relation between DNA damage, inflammation and carcinogenesis, and, most importantly, 3) bioprospecting for novel marine animal bioproducts, from toxins to pigments and anti-oxidants. Our mission is to understand how organisms evolved either to cope with or produce noxious substances from ecosystem to nucleotide and explore these potentialities under a biotechnological perspective.

Our technical expertise runs across all levels of biological organisation – from aquatic ecology to genotoxicity assessment, DNA repair and ‘omics’. However, pathology and histopathology are major technical skills, to which is added vas experience with a wide range of organisms – from helminths, molluscs and arthropods to fish and mammals (both wild and laboratory strains). We highlight our work with aquatic models such as bivalves and crustaceans, small marine fish and the zebrafish (adult and embryo).

Our expertise on animal pathophysiology and histopathology has been translated into a growing collaborative network for basic and applied science: from ocean warming and pollution to nanotoxicology and biomedicine.

Research Highlights
Isolation and characterisation of new bioproducts from marine annelids

The vast biodiversity of the Portuguese coastline has a tremendous potential to offer novel substances from marine invertebrates and therefore contribute to EU’s ‘Biotechnology for Blue Growth’ strategy. Through project GreenTech, which is a collaboration between UCIBIO and LAQV, Phyllodocid worms became one of our major case studies for marine bioprospecting. We disclosed new candidate compounds as photosensitizers for anti-cancer photodynamic therapy, as well as novel toxins. After integrating techniques like HPLC and NMR, the previous appear to be porphyrinlike substances derived from the complex metabolism of respiratory pigments and disclosed their distribution between organs and identified major pigment subtypes. In their turn, toxins appear to be proteinaceous and of a novel type. They are part of a complex cocktail of substances secreted by the worm and appear to have multiple properties of interest: from being a relaxant to holding fluorescent properties. An undergoing series of bioassays deploying human cell lines and marine organisms as models has been disclosing the toxins’ mode of action and biotechnological potential.


Toxicopathology of carcinogens, mutagens and mixtures

Mixtures of pollutants render risk assessment even more challenging and compromise environmental quality guidelines and thresholds. The problem is exacerbated when chronic disease, such as cancer, are at stake. Deploying human cell lines and zebrafish as models, we have been disclosing how even low concentrations of carcinogens (such as PAHs), isolated or combined with other common toxicants, affect cell proliferation, survival and inflammation, all of which pivotal into neoplasia progression.

Representative Projects

  • “WormALL – Marine invertebrates as source of novel biotoxins: Investigating function and application through Polychaeta venomics, FCT-MCTES, Total and Unit funding: €240,000, Pedro M. Costa (PI).
  • “GreenTech – Of pigments and toxins: an integrative approach to the biotechnological potential of a marine polychaete”, FCT-MCTES, Total and Unit funding: €200,000, Pedro M. Costa (PI)
  • “MBStox – Multifunctional biomolecular systems for new methods of decontamination, protection and toxicological assessment”, FCT-MCTES, Total funding: €240,000, Unit funding: €20,000, Ricardo Lagoa (PI at IPL)
  • “3Qs for quality – Development of molecular sensors and technologies for seafood quality assessment”, FCTMCTES, Total funding: €200,000, Unit funding: €90,260, Pedro M. Costa (Collaborator)

Selected Publications

D'Ambrosio, M; Goncalves, C; Santos, AC; Costa, PM. 2020. Disclosing New Photosensitizers for Photodynamic Therapy: Toxicity Testing of Porphyrioids from a Marine Polychaeta. Marine Drugs, 18, DOI:
CUNHA, M.L., MARTINS, C., GROSSO, A.R.; COSTA, P.M.. 2019. New lessons from ancient life: marine invertebrates as a source of new drugs. ANNALS OF MEDICINE, DOI: 10.1080/07853890.2018.1561901
Rodrigo, AP; Costa, PM. 2019. The hidden biotechnological potential of marine invertebrates: The Polychaeta case study. ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, 173, DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.03.048
Cuevas, N; Martins, M; Rodrigo, AP; Martins, C; Costa, PM. 2018. Explorations on the ecological role of toxin secretion and delivery in jawless predatory Polychaeta. Scientific Reports, In press(8), DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-26031-1