Newsletter No 2 June 2013

Inaugural Speech Prof.dr.ir. Juliette Legler


cb grootOn May 8, 2013, Juliette Legler held her inaugural speech as Professor of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Her goal over the next 5 years is to better understand how environmental contaminants affect basic biological processes at the molecular level, and how these changes lead to long term effects on human and ecosystem health.

By polluting the environment we live in we are ultimately polluting ourselves. Modern society has developed hand in hand with the increased use of chemical substances like pesticides, pharmaceuticals and additives. Chemicals play a major and beneficial role in all facets of our lives, though their use is not without risk. Thanks to improved environmental legislation, the days of massive die-offs of birds and fish due to chemical poisoning seem long behind us. Instead, humans and wildlife are exposed to low concentrations of thousands of chemicals that while perhaps not causing overt toxic effects, may subtly change the way the body works. The goal of Juliette Legler’s Chair in Toxicology and Environmental Health is to better understand how these chemicals affect the most basic processes at the molecular (DNA) level, and how these changes can lead to long term effects on human health.

Traditionally an environmental toxicologist, Legler has developed testing strategies to identify the effects of chemicals that disrupt hormone regulation in fish. The genetic changes caused by these so-called “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) are similar between fish and higher vertebrates like humans. Legler became intrigued by the potential of zebrafish as a model for understanding effects of chemicals in humans. Her research has revealed new effects of environmental contaminants on early development, and in her Chair, she will further examine the role of EDC exposure during development on the onset of endocrine-related diseases in humans like obesity, diabetes, neurological disorders and cancer. Legler believes that changes in the way genes are expressed during development (epigenetic gene regulation) are essential to understanding the long-term effects of chemical exposure.

Link to full text of inaugural speech

Contact: Juliette Legler