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EPA Internship for Toxicity of Environmental Contaminants to Aquatic Organisms

EPA Office/Lab and LocationA research opportunity is available at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development (ORD), Center for Computational Toxicology and Exposure (CCTE), Great Lakes Toxicology Ecology Division (GLTED) located in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Research ProjectPuget Sound, in the Pacific northwest, is home to federally endangered southern resident killer whales (SRKW, Orcinus orca). Their native environment is contaminated with complex mixtures of chemicals from human activity including industry, agriculture, and personal/household use. No orca-specific toxicity threshold values have been developed to contaminants found in their habitat. In vivo testing similar to what is conducted with small rodents would be most informative for developing toxicity benchmarks, however it is not possible with large mammals, including orca.

The research participant will be involved in exciting new research using a novel orca whale cell line for in vitro toxicity testing to derive orca-specific toxicity benchmarks for environmental chemicals. Existing approaches along with a novel orca cell line will be used to assemble bioactivity information. Contaminants of recognized (PCBs) and emerging (6PPDq) concern could be evaluated for their potential effect on orca via cellular toxicity and gene expression assays. Gene expression will be assessed with high throughput RNA sequencing methods. The research participant will spend the majority of their time in the laboratory maintaining cells, conducting experiments, and performing assays. They will also gain experience maintaining sample records and analyzing data.

With guidance from the mentor, the research participant may be involved in any or all of the following training activities:

  • Maintenance of cell cultures, including but not limited to, a novel orca cell line.
  • Maintenance of records pertaining to cell cultures and samples.
  • Conducting laboratory exposures to organic chemicals using cultured cells.
  • Conducting molecular, biochemical, physiological, and/or histological analyses on media and tissue samples collected from homogenized or fixed cells.
  • Screening chemicals or chemical mixtures for biological activity using a diversity of cell-free, cell-based, and/or high throughput testing approaches.
  • Analyzing experimental data and generating tables, figures, and other summaries of results.
  • Presenting research results at scientific meetings and contributing to written reports and journal articles.

Learning ObjectivesThe research participant will learn a diversity of laboratory techniques which can be applied across life sciences research fields. The research participants learn to operate and use a range of scientific equipment. The research participant will learn to enhance their skills with cell culture, high throughput sequencing and biochemical assays. The research participants will learn to evaluate data quality, trouble shoot research results, apply statistical methods for data analysis and interpretation.

The research participant will collaborate with a transdisciplinary research team and engage in multiple aspects of project planning, communication and coordination, research implementation, and analysis. The research participants will be afforded an opportunity to interact with internationally recognized leaders, both within and outside EPA. The research participant will have the opportunity to contribute to original research. It is expected that this training opportunity will provide an early career scientist with knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to apply new technologies and associated data to regulatory decision-making at the local, national, and/or international scale and to pursue graduate education or a professional career in life sciences research.

Mentor(s)The mentor for this opportunity is Mary Jean See ( If you have questions about the nature of the research please contact the mentor(s).

Anticipated Appointment Start Date: November, 2022. All start dates are flexible and vary depending on numerous factors. Click here for detailed information about start dates.

Appointment LengthThe appointment initially may be for one year and may be renewed three to four additional years upon EPA recommendation and subject to availability of funding.

Level of ParticipationThe appointment is full-time.

Participant StipendThe participant will receive a monthly stipend commensurate with educational level and experience. Click here for detailed information about full-time stipends.

EPA Security ClearanceCompletion of a successful background investigation by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is required for an applicant to be on-boarded at EPA.

ORISE InformationThis program, administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), was established through an interagency agreement between DOE and EPA. Participants do not become employees of EPA, DOE or the program administrator, and there are no employment-related benefits. Proof of health insurance is required for participation in this program. Health insurance can be obtained through ORISE.

ORISE offers all ORISE EPA graduate students and Postdocs a free 5 year membership to the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA).

The successful applicant(s) will be required to comply with Environmental, Safety and Health (ES&H) requirements of the hosting facility, including but not limited to, COVID-19 requirements (e.g. facial covering, physical distancing, testing, vaccination).

Questions: Please see the FAQ section of our website. After reading, if you have additional questions about the application process please email and include the reference code for this opportunity.

The qualified candidate should have received a bachelor's or master's degree in one of the relevant fields (e.g. Biology, (eco)Toxicology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Genetics). Degree must have been received within five years of the appointment start date.

Preferred skills:
  • Experience working with cell culture, preferably primary cell culture (e.g., plating, maintaining, freezing animal cells using aseptic technique).
  • Experience with basic biology techniques for analysis of cell viability/toxicity (e.g., trypan blue dye assay, MTT)
  • Experience with basic molecular biology techniques used for analysis of proteins and nucleic acids (e.g., gel electrophoresis, PCR, quantitative real-time PCR, use of thermocyclers and/or bioanalyzers, etc.)
  • Experience with high throughput sequencing library preparation.
  • Computational skills (e.g., Excel, Access or SQL database, R-based statistics)
  • Skills in oral and written communication