Isotope research helping industry and the environment

May 17, 2019

Isotopic research techniques are a powerful tool for environmental scientists and researchers at ANSTO are global leaders in this field.

ANSTO

ANSTO’s Dr Mazumder’s research is helping the Australian aquaculture and seafood industries by developing tools to determine the geographic origin of seafood to combat food fraud.

Experts at tracing the tiny “fingerprints” isotopes leave as they move through earth systems such as water ways, our atmosphere and all living things.

Dr Debashish Mazumder, a Senior Environmental Research Scientist at ANSTO explains, “Plants produce organic carbon during photosynthesis. This carbon has a unique fingerprint which is passed on to animals as they consume the plant material, and this isotopic fingerprint is carried to the top of the food chain through predation.

“Tracing these isotopic fingerprints helps us work out the relationship between species within an ecosystem and the source of their food, which is essential for monitoring ecosystems and predicting changes. It can also play a powerful role in tracking the provenance of foodstuffs.”

Mazumder says the fast growing aquaculture industry is an example. “Isotope analysis of fish tissue and feed can provide insight into the cost-effectiveness of fish farming, whether the fish is farmed or wild-caught, and offers insight into aquaculture’s environmental footprint.”

ANSTO radiochemist Atun Zawadzki specialises in using a range of techniques, including using the radioisotope lead-210 as a “clock” within sediment layers up to 150 years old. Because radioactive isotopes decay at a known rate, a chronology can be established.

“Knowing the age of sediment layers and the substances present, we can construct a clear view of the environmental history of an area and investigate why and how changes have occurred,” says Zawadzki.

For more information on how ANSTO uses isotopes for environmental research, visit ansto.gov.au.

— Gregor Ferguson

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

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