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Christopher M. Wood

Christopher M. Wood

Canada Research Chair in Environment and Health

Tier 1 - 2001-01-01 Renewed: 2008-01-01



Studying the impact of waterborne pollutants, particularly metals on the biology of fish 


Assist in the development of environmental regulations by improving the accuracy of pollution prediction methods 


There are strong links between the industrial use of metals and environmental pollution. Fish have exhibited adverse reactions to these pollutants, prompting the creation of tough international regulations. But some have crippled industry. Can a balance be found to protect the environment, while still permitting the use of metals that are beneficial to society? Canadian researchers are looking for the answer.

Christopher Wood is one of the world's foremost experts in fish physiology. Over the past 25 years, he has conducted field studies from China to Brazil. His field research and laboratory studies have shown that fish are surprisingly resilient in adapting to changes in their environment. His laboratory studies have uncovered new knowledge about the most important organ in a fish-its gills. At one time, the gills of a fish were thought to act only as the lungs. Research has shown that the gills combine the functions of a human's kidney and digestive tract. How metals pass through or are absorbed by the gills is at the heart of Wood's research.

Wood conducted pioneering research into the effects of acid water and aluminum on the gills of fish. He was the first to identify cardiovascular collapse as the final cause of death in fish living in highly acidic waters. The finding is highly significant in understanding the global problem of acid rain.

Wood has also played a role in developing scientifically sound environmental regulations governing the use of metals. In 1998, his research on the aquatic toxicology of silver prevented a European-led proposal to have photographic film labeled as hazardous waste. In this case, it was proven the byproduct of industry had a negligible effect on the health of fish. Other regulations based on proven environmental risk require better testing methods. This is another avenue of Wood's research.

In addition, Wood is involved with the development of biotic ligand modeling, in collaboration with 10 other labs. The model can predict the level of metal pollution in a fish by studying a particular area of its gills. The laboratory model eliminates the need for costly, time-consuming animal toxicity tests. This in turn saves communities and industry money while improving their response to the regulations. The result? Improved water quality at lower cost.

Wood will also contribute to the International Research Chairs Initiative (IRCI), a new partnership between the International Development Research Centre and the Canada Research Chairs Program.