Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Ecotoxicology Research Areas


Dr. Nat Scholz
Program Manager
Staff Directory

Oil spill science

The Center has investigated the toxicity of petroleum-derived hydrocarbons to marine life for several decades. Oil spill research in recent years has focused on the vulnerability of fish early life stages (embryos and larvae). Ecotoxicology Program scientists are currently using the zebrafish genetic model to identify specific pathways of toxicity in fish exposed to oil. This work has shown that the developing heart is a particularly vulnerable target organ. Low-level petroleum exposures cause lethal heart failure or, in fish that survive, permanent changes in heart form and function. Zebrafish continue to be a bridge model for marine and anadromous species. The team is now developing novel and sensitive molecular indicators of petroleum exposure and cardiac injury, for use in environmental monitoring and future oil spill impact assessments.

Program Contact

John Incardona

Project Staff

David Baldwin, Barbara French, John Incardona, Jana Labenia, Tiffany Linbo, Karen Peck, Nat Scholz


NOAA Auke Bay Laboratories Habitat Assessment and Marine Chemistry Program
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National Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration

Related publications

Incardona, J.P and Scholz, N.L. 2018. Case study: the 2010 Gulf oil spill. In: Development, physiology, and environment: a synthesis. W. Burggren and B. Dubansky (eds.). Springer. In press.

Sørensen, L., Sørhus, E., Nordtug, T., Incardona, J.P., Linbo, T.L., Giovanetti, L., Karlsen, Ø., and Meier, S. 2017. Oil droplet fouling and differential toxicokinetics of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in embryos of Atlantic haddock and cod. PLoS One. 12(7):e0180048.

Incardona, J.P. 2017. Molecular mechanisms of crude oil developmental toxicity in fish. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 2017 73(1):19-32.

Sørhus, E., Incardona, J.P., Furmanek, T., Scholz, N.L., Meier, S., Edvardsen, R.B., and Jentoft, S. 2017. Novel adverse outcome pathways revealed by chemical genetics in a developing marine fish. eLife, 6:e20207.

Brette, F., Shiels, H.A., Galli, G.L.J, Cros, C., Incardona, J.P., Scholz, N.L., and Block, B.A. 2017. A novel cardiotoxic mechanism for a globally pervasive environmental pollutant. Scientific Reports, 7:41476.

Incardona, J.P. and Scholz, N.L. 2016. The influence of heart developmental anatomy on cardiotoxicity-based adverse outcome pathways in fish. Aquatic Toxicology, 177:515-525.

Esbaugh, A.J., Mager, E.M., Stieglitz, J.D., Hoenig, R., Brown, T.S., French, B.L., Linbo, T.L., Scholz, N.L., Incardona, J.P., Benetti, D.D., and Grosell, M. 2016. The effects of weathering and chemical dispersion on Deepwater Horizon crude oil toxicity to mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) early life stages. Science of the Total Environment, 543:644-651.

Edmunds, R.C., Gill, A., Baldwin, D.H., Esbaugh, A.J., Mager, E.M., Hoenig, R., Stieglitz, J.D., Benetti, D.D., Grosell, M., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. 2015. Corresponding morphological and molecular indicators of crude oil toxicity to the developing hearts of mahi mahi. Scientific Reports, 5:17326.

Incardona, J.P., Carls, M.G., Holland, L., Linbo, T.L., Baldwin, D.H., Myers, M.S., Peck, K.A., Tagal, M., Rice, S.D., and Scholz, N.L. 2015. Very low embryonic crude oil exposures cause lasting cardiac defects in herring and salmon. Scientific Reports, 5:13499.

Scholz, N.L. and Incardona, J.P. 2015. Scaling PAH toxicity to fish early life stages. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 34:459-461.

Mager E.M., Esbaugh, A.J., Stieglitz, J.D., Hoenig, R., Bodinier, C., Incardona, J.P., Scholz, N.L., Benetti, D.D., and Grosell, M. 2014. Acute embryonic or juvenile exposure to Deepwater Horizon crude oil impairs the swimming performance of mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus). Environmental Science and Technology, 48:7053-7061.

Incardona, J.P., Gardner, L.D., Linbo, T.L., Swarts, T.L., Esbaugh, A.J., Mager, E.M., Stieglitz, J.D., French, B.L., Labenia, J.S., Laetz, C.A., Tagal, M., Sloan, C.A., Elizur, A., Benetti, D.D., Grosell, M., Block, B.A., and Scholz, N.L. 2014. Deepwater Horizon crude oil toxicity to the developing hearts of large predatory pelagic fish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 111: 201320950.

Brette, F., Machado, B., Cros, C., Incardona, J.P., Scholz, N.L., and Block, B.A. 2014. Crude oil impairs cardiac excitation-contraction coupling in fish. Science, 343:772-776.

Incardona, J.P., Swarts, T.H., Edmunds, R.C., Linbo, T.L., Aquilina-Beck, A., Sloan, C.A., Gardner, L.D., Block, B.A., and Scholz, N.L. 2013. Exxon Valdez to Deepwater Horizon: comparable toxicity of both crude oils to fish early life stages. Aquatic Toxicology, 142-143:303-316.

Jung, J.-H., Hicken, C.E., Boyd, D., Anulacion, B.F., Carls, M.G., Shim, W.J. and Incardona, J.P. 2013. Geologically distinct crude oils cause a common cardiotoxicity syndrome in developing zebrafish. Chemosphere 91, 1146-1155

Incardona, J.P., Vines, C.A., Anulacion, B.F., Baldwin, D.H., Day, H.L., French, B.L., Labenia, J.S., Linbo, T.L., Myers, M.S., Olson, O.P., Sloan, C.A., Sol, S.Y., Griffin, F.J., Menard, K., Morgan, S.G., Smith, E.H., West, J.E., Collier, T.K., Ylitalo, G.M., Cherr, G.N. and Scholz, N.L. 2012. Unexpectedly high rates of early life stage mortality among herring spawned in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill impact zone in San Francisco Bay. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(2):E51-58.

Incardona, J.P., Vines, C.A., Linbo, T.L., Myers, M.S., Labenia, J.S., French, B.L., Olson, O.P., Sol, S.Y., Willis, M.L., Jarvis, M., Newman, J., Meeks, D. Menard, K., Sloan, C.A., Baldwin, D.H., Ylitalo, G.M., Collier, T.K., Cherr, G.N. and Scholz, N.L. 2012. Potent photoxicity of marine bunker oil to translucent herring embryos after prolonged weathering. Public Library of Science ONE, 7(2): e30116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030116.

Incardona, J.P., Linbo, T.L., and Scholz, N.L. 2011. Cardiac toxicity of 5-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is differentially dependent on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 2 isoform during zebrafish development. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 257:242-249.

Hicken, C.L., Linbo, T.L., Baldwin, D.W., Willis, M.L., Myers, M.S., Holland, L., Larsen, M., Stekoll, M.S., Rice, S.D., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. 2011. Sublethal exposure to crude oil during embryonic development alters cardiac morphology and reduces aerobic capacity in adult fish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108:7086-7090.

Incardona, J.P., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. 2011. Oil spills and fish health: exposing the heart of the matter. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 21:3-4.

Hatlen, K., Sloan, C.A., Burrows, D.G., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. 2010. Natural sunlight and residual fuel oils are a lethal combination for fish embryos. Aquatic Toxicology, 99:56-64

Incardona, J.P., Carls, M.G., Day, H.L., Sloan, C.A., Bolton, J.L., Collier, T.K., and Scholz N.L. 2009. Cardiac arrhythmia is the primary response of embryonic Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) exposed to crude oil during weathering. Environmental Science and Technology, 43:201-207.

Carls, M.G., Holland, L., Larsen, M., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. 2008. Fish embryos are damaged by dissolved PAHs, not oil particles. Aquatic Toxicology, 88:121-127.

Incardona, J.P., Day, H.L., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. 2006. Developmental toxicity of 4-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in zebrafish is differentially dependent on AH receptor isoforms and hepatic cytochrome P4501A metabolism. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 217:308-321.

Incardona, J.P., Carls, M.G., Teraoka, H., Sloan, C.A., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. 2005. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor-independent toxicity of weathered crude oil during fish development. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113:1755-1762.

Incardona, J.P., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. 2004. Defects in cardiac function precede morphological abnormalities in fish embryos exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 196:191-205.

  • Oil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are toxic to the developing fish heart (arrows). The hearts of affected larvae are unable to pump properly, resulting in fluid accumulation in the pericardial space. This form of heart failure is eventually lethal.
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