Research Areas

Human health implications of global environmental change

Traditionally the field of environmental health has focused on health outcomes associated with exposure to single chemicals. More recently, large-scale changes in the environment such as climate change, urbanization, and land use change have been characterized by earth and physical scientists but have been largely unexplored by human health scientists. Our research program examines health outcomes associated with large-scale environmental changes across urban and rural landscapes. Using a combination of satellite-derived datasets and vital records, we have confirmed associations between mortality and extreme heat events and we were also able to detect an association between preterm birth and extreme heat events. Importantly, we were able to detect mediation of the association by rurality, suggesting persons in urban centers may be more at risk. To assess adaptation strategies in human populations, community engaged research is being conducted in underserved urban and rural communities in Alabama, where we have piloted a method for measuring individual level exposure using a small device attached to the shoe.

Selected Publications

  • Gohlke JM, R Thomas, A Woodward, D Campbell-Lendrum, A Prüss-Üstün, S Hales, CJ Portier. (2011). Estimating the global health implications of electricity and coal consumption. Environ Health Perspect. 119(6): 821-6.
  • Smith, TT, BF Zaitchik, JM Gohlke. (2013). Heat waves in the United States: definitions, patterns and trends. Climatic Change 118: 811-825
  • Kent ST, McClure LA, Zaitchik BF, Smith TT, & JM Gohlke. (2013). Heat Waves and Health Outcomes in Alabama (USA): The Importance of Heat Wave Definition. Environ Health Perspect. 122(2): 151-8
  • Bernhard, MC, ST Kent, MA Sloan, MB Evans, McClure LA, JM Gohlke. (2015). Measuring personal heat exposure in an urban and rural environment. Environmental Research 137: 410-418

Utility of bioinformatic techniques and D. pulex as an alternative model for disseminating human health risk

Collaborating with Francois Guillemot’s lab, who produced transcriptomics datasets in several proneuroal bHLH loss of function and gain of function mice, we have been able to develop a gene regulatory network describing differentiation into glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. This work led to a broader application of network theory and pathway analysis to define hypotheses of the most likely molecular targets of environmental factors affecting disease processes based on publically available datasets from genetic association studies in humans and toxicology studies performed in rodent and other model organisms. We are currently evaluating lifespan and transcriptomic changes associated with early-life exposures to mixtures using D. pulex as a model organism.

Selected Publications

  • Gohlke, JM, O Armant, FM Parham, MV Smith, D Castro, L Nguyen, JS Parker, G Gradwohl, CJ Portier, F Guillemot. (2008). A Gene Regulatory Network for Telencephalon Development Combining Experimental and Bioinformatics Approaches. BMC Biology 6(1): 15.
  • Gohlke JM, R Thomas, Y Zhang, MC Rosenstein, AP Davis, C Murphy, CJ Mattingly, KG Becker, CJ Portier (2009). Genetic and Environmental Pathways to Complex Diseases. BMC Systems Biology 3: 46.
  • Thomas R, JM Gohlke , F Parham, CJ Portier (2009). Choosing the right path: Enhancement of biologically-relevant sets of genes or proteins using pathway structure. Genome Biology 10(4):R44.
  • Doke DA, SL Hudson, JA Dawson and JM Gohlke. (2014). Effects of early life exposure to methylmercury in Daphnia pulex on standard and reduced food ration. Reproductive Toxicology 49 pgs. 219-225.

Assessing human health risk after a large-scale oil spill

We have evaluated seafood safety protocols used for re-opening fisheries following the Deepwater Horizon blowout. After outlining a set of data gaps and recommendations for further state and federal testing, samples collected from fishermen were analyzed and compared to federal level testing. Our most recent assessment of this data concluded there was minimal acute human health risk associated with seafood consumption after waters were re-opened for fisheries, although the potential long-term health impacts associated with the Deepwater Horizon blowout are still being evaluated.

Selected Publications

  • Gohlke JM, D Doke, M Tipre, M Leader, T Fitzgerald. (2011). A review of seafood safety after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Environ Health Perspect. 119(8): 1062-9
  • Fitzgerald TP, JM Gohlke. (2014). Contaminant levels in Gulf of Mexico reef fish after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as measured by a fishermen-led testing program. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48(3): 1993-2000