University of New Mexico
Superfund Center
Metals Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest
Welcome to our February 2023 Newsletter!
Bioproject Gut
Team Members

University of New Mexico
Eliseo Castillo, Julie In, Sarah Blossom, Fredine Lauer, Roger Atanga, Aaron Romero
Penn State
Andrew Patterson
Anne-Katrin Uhlemann

Research questions: Does the ingestion of heavy metals impact the gut and human health?
Can we identify unique biomarkers that can be used to assess heavy metal exposure within the community?

Research updates:
  • Using animal models, we have found that animals ingesting heavy metals show changes in the bacteria that live in the gut. These changes can have a major influence on the immune system, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. Future assessment will be to understand how these changes impact health.

  • Using human tissues, we can make mini-guts to examine how heavy metals directly impact the human gut. We have exposed our mini-guts to fine dust from Paguate (Laguna Pueblo) and processed using a technique called single cell RNA sequencing to determine if the dust causes changes in the mini-guts. So far, we have found that specific cells are disrupted and there are changes in hormone producing cells. Functional analysis of this is currently underway.

  •  A major immune cell in the gut called macrophages play a key role in keeping the gut healthy. We have found macrophages exposed to the Paguate dust become inflammatory which suggest negative changes to the gut immune system.

Biographies of UNM BP Gut Team Members
BP Gut is led by Dr. Eliseo Castillo and co-lead, Dr. Julie In.
Roger Atanga
Roger Atanga is a 5th year PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP) at the University of New Mexico. He is currently mentored by Dr. In, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr In’s lab studies gut injury and regeneration. Roger’s project aims at characterizing the cellular and transcriptomic effect of non-fissile uranium bearing dust (UBD) on the gut. Human derived colonoids are used in their experiments as model system to study the gut.  Using single-cell RNA-seq, they show that acute exposure of colonoids to UBD is detrimental to the gut and see expansion of hormone producing enteroendocrine cells and disruption of proliferative cells.
Fredine Koenig (Lauer)
Fredine Koenig (Lauer) (BS, MPH) is a member of the Bio Project Gut (BPG) team in the current METALS Superfund Grant and in the previous grant was a member of Bio Project 1, led by Dr. Scott Burchiel. She has over 25 years of experience working in the field of immunotoxicology at UNM, College of Pharmacy, and an additional 8 years of experience in animal necropsy and immunohistochemistry at Lovelace Inhalation Toxicology Research Institute. Fredine has an MPH with a concentration in epidemiology. She has extensive experience with both murine and human models of metals immunotoxicity which includes in vitro and in vivo models as well as population study experience working with a Bangladesh cohort examining the effects of arsenic exposure on the immune system.
Aaron Romero
Aaron Romero is a second year PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP) at the University of New Mexico. Aaron works under the direction of Dr. Eliseo Castillo, where his lab is focused on intestinal health, specifically the colon from a toxicology and immunology perspective. Current projects involve how environmental pollutant exposure effects gut health. Some pollutants the lab is focused on include arsenic, uranium, and microplastics and how these chemicals effect the gut microenvironment. 
Environment & Health Award

METALS Director, Dr. Johnnye Lewis, is honored to be unanimously selected as the recipient of the 2023 John P. Wyatt, MD Environment & Health Award from the University of Kentucky. The award is given to those who have made a major impact on the field of environmental health. 
Cherie De Vore, Ph.D., a former trainee with the University of New Mexico METALS SRP Center, explained how her mechanistic research on metal contaminants in the environment is grounded in her Diné identity.
"My identity as an Indigenous woman from the four sacred mountains of Dinétah (Navajo land) is paramount to the type of mentor, teacher, and scientist I have become," De Vore shared. "How to deal with legacy waste material and how to remediate contaminated sites are some of the pressing questions I contemplate about environmental health work and holistic community wellness."
Read her full article in the NIEHS Global Environmental Health Newsletter.
2022 SRP Annual Meeting Posters
METALS research presented at the Annual meeting in Raleigh, NC
 December 14-16, 2022
Arsenic Uptake by Fungi Isolates from the Jackpile Mine on the Laguna Pueblo, NM 
-Taylor Busch 
The Politics of Baselining in the Grants Uranium Mining District of Northwestern New Mexico
-Thomas DePree 
Meteorological data source comparison – a case study in geospatial modeling of potential environmental exposure to abandoned mine sites on Navajo Nation. 
-Chris Girlamo 
Moving on from Uranium mining legacy within the Pueblo of Laguna 
-Kyle Swimmer 
Thinking Zinc: A Study of Zinc Supplements on the Navajo Nation 
-Erica Dashner-Titus 
Thinking Zinc: An intervention to address environmental metal exposure on the Navajo Nation
-Laurie Hudson 
Native Communities Integrate Indigenous Science in Assessments of Agricultural Lands, Mine Waste Toxicity, Remediation Policy 
-Chris Shuey 
Navajo WaterGIS: Harmonization and visualization of water quality at unregulated sources
-Daniel Beene 
Dr. Thomas DePree and Taylor Busch’s discuss her poster at the 2022 SRP Annual meeting in Raleigh, NC.  
UNM METALS team attendees at the 2022 SRP Annual meeting included 7 project/core leads and 6 trainees. 
METALS Superfund Indigenous Cultural Training
On Jan 19th, the METALS center, in collaboration with the Indigenous Education Institute (IEI), hosted an interactive discussion on "Translating Science Through Art in Tribal Communities" with Dr. Manuela Well-Off-Man, curator, and
Mallery Quetawki, artist. The zoom session included a virtual tour of the exhibit "Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology" at IAIA in 2021.

A link to the Zoom recording will be hosted on the IEI website at
In The Press
The Cold War Legacy Lurking in NM Groundwater
Govt agencies report high rates of cancer from New Mexico uranium mills.
By Mark Olalde, ProPublica

Paul Robinson, from METALS partner SRIC (Southwest Research and Information Center) is quoted in the article about legacy waste from uranium mining.

New Research Articles

Medina S, Zhang H, Santos-Medina LV, Yee ZA, Martin KJ, Wan G, Bolt AM, Zhou X, Stýblo M, Liu KJ. Arsenite Methyltransferase Is an Important Mediator of Hematotoxicity Induced by Arsenic in Drinking Water. Water. 2023 Jan 22;15(3):448.

Medina S, Zhang H, Santos-Medina LV, Wan G, Bolt AM, Zhou X, Burchiel SW, Liu KJ. Arsenic impairs the lineage commitment of hematopoietic progenitor cells through the attenuation of GATA-2 DNA binding activity. Toxicology and applied pharmacology. 2022 Oct 1;452:116193.

Meza I, Gonzalez-Estrella J, Burns PC, Rodriguez V, Velasco CA, Sigmon GE, Szymanowski JE, Forbes TZ, Applegate LM, Ali AM, Lichtner P, and Cerrato JM. Solubility and Thermodynamic Investigation of Meta-Autunite Group Uranyl Arsenate Solids with Monovalent Cations Na and K. Environmental Science & Technology. 2022 Dec 16.

NIH/NIEHS P42 ES025589 (UNM METALS) This material was developed in part under cited research awards to the University of New Mexico. It has not been formally reviewed by the funding agencies. The views expressed are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the agencies. The funders do not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this presentation.