Human Pharmaceuticals in the Marine Environment
: Evidence of occurrence, direct impact and potential ecotoxicological effects on blue mussels, Mytilus edulis

  • Wulan Koagouw

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


A growing body of literature suggests that pharmaceuticals used in human medicine
pose an increasing contamination risk to non-target organisms and indeed to the
overall health of marine ecosystems. However, data concerning the level and nature
of that risk is lacking. This is particularly true for developing countries such as
Indonesia, where the precarious service of wastewater treatment, especially domestic
wastewater is threatening the coastal marine environment.

The present research investigates the biological responses and potential
ecotoxicological effects of acetaminophen and metformin, two of the most commonly
used human pharmaceuticals, on the marine bivalve Mytilus edulis. This is the first
study to record the contamination of Indonesian marine waters (Jakarta Bay) with
acetaminophen. Among the studied effects, this research focuses on biological
responses recorded both in adults and at the early life stage, in mussels exposed to
pharmaceuticals under laboratory conditions. Special emphasis was placed on
histological and cytological effects, as well as the impact on molecular pathways, with
several reproduction related genes such as vitellogenin and estrogen receptor-2 being
strongly modulated by the selected contaminants. The variation in mRNA expression
of four other genes involved in apoptosis: heat shock protein-70, caspase-8, B-cell
lymphoma-2 and Fas cell surface death receptor was also investigated.

In summary, this study provides the first record to date of acetaminophen presence in
Indonesian seawater, with one of the highest contamination levels published so far
globally. Furthermore, it provides a comprehensive and integrative assessment of the
short- and long-term effects of acetaminophen and metformin in marine mussels
Mytilus edulis. Indeed, to date this is the first study recording the effects of
acetaminophen in Mytilus edulis, and is also the first study recording the effects of
both acetaminophen and metformin specifically on the early life stage of Mytilus
edulis. Finally, it discusses the significance of these two most highly consumed
pharmaceuticals in the context of marine pollution and the possible consequences for
survival of coastal marine species.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorCorina Ciocan (Supervisor), David Timson (Supervisor), Zainal Arifin (Supervisor) & Susan Sandeman (Supervisor)


  • acetaminophen
  • metformin
  • blue mussels
  • transcriptomics
  • histopathology
  • marine pollution

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