Dr. Deborah MacLatchy is the Vice-President: Academic & Provost and a Professor of Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo. An ecotoxicologist and comparative endocrinologist, Dr. MacLatchy’s research focuses on the study of the effects of toxic chemicals on fish reproduction, development and growth.

Ecotoxicological research plays an important role in protecting human health through detecting the effects of urban and agricultural activity on aquatic ecosystems. This research can be used to prevent or remediate detrimental effects of water contamination to safeguard human and aquatic life.

Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science

Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science

With over 70 peer-reviewed publications in her field, Dr. MacLatchy’s present work focuses on the interplay of factors on fish health (e.g., climate change and contaminants). She is a 2005 recipient, with Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. and Environment Canada, of a NSERC Synergy award for her collaborative work on the issue of endocrine disruption in aquatic environments caused by industrial contaminants.

Dr. MacLatchy is the co-leader of SOWC’s Ecotoxicology Node and is leading the development of the Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science, opening in spring 2013 on the Waterloo campus of Wilfrid Laurier University. The Ecotoxicology Node will enable SOWC users to determine the effects of point (e.g., wastewater treatment) and non-point (e.g., agricultural run-off) sources of stressors and investigate effects on fish and invertebrates, mechanisms of action and remediation efficacy (e.g., due to treatment process changes) of industrial and municipal processes to improve water quality and aquatic ecosystem health.

Collaboration opportunities

Collaboration opportunities within the Ecotoxicology node range across the drinking water, watershed and wastewater nodes, with each of these benefiting from insights of ecotoxicological analysis. Ecotoxicology mobile labs will greatly increase the accessibility and capacity to study the impacts of waste waters and specific contaminants on biota in the watershed. The Ecotoxicology node bioassay facility, co-located with the Guelph wastewater pilot plant, will provide unique opportunities for testing the efficacy of treatment technologies for reducing biological impacts.

Questions & Answers with Dr. MacLatchy

Q: What was behind your drive to pursue a career in science?
Biology was always my favorite of all the sciences and it was probably not that surprising that I became interested in physiology in particular since it is the study of how organisms function and I was always interested in “how things work.” A few exceptional mentors along the way have encouraged my interests and gave me opportunities as an undergraduate and graduate student that made a career in science seem like the best of all possible careers.

Q: What do you wish to accomplish through your work?
I hope to be able to facilitate bringing people together to address environmental challenges related to human effects of aquatic ecosystems. In particular, the opportunity to support the training of students who will be the next generation of researchers is the best part of my job.

Q: Do you have any examples of your work translating into real-world solutions to water problems?
Much of my work has focused on identifying and remediating the compounds arising from the making of pulp and paper that are released into the industry’s wastewater and affect fish production. This was recognized by a NSERC Synergy Award in 2005.

Q: What would be your ideal collaboration with others working on water solutions?
One in which shared goals bring together researchers and their students from a variety of fields (e.g., biology, chemistry and engineering) to problem solve challenges identified as important to ensuring healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Q: What is unique about the capacity you are leading within SOWC?
The unique capacity is one that allows studies to be undertaken at the source of the potential contamination (i.e., with the mobile trailer research facilities) and also to undertake detailed studies on the types of contaminants causing effects and their mode of actions with organisms. By linking contaminant type with effects we can predict the effects of contaminants and ultimately assess their risk to aquatic ecosystems and human health.