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EPA Internship on Investigating the Metabolism of Per- and Poly-fluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS)

EPA Office/Lab and LocationA research opportunity is available at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development (ORD), Center for Computational Toxicology and Exposure (CCTE), Great Lakes Toxicology Ecology Division (GLTED) located in Duluth, Minnesota.

Research ProjectPFAS chemicals have been identified as contaminants of emerging concern and currently lack toxicological data necessary for decision making. There are many challenges involved in predicting the environmental exposure pathways of chemicals from the environment into the organism, accounting for environmental degradation and biotransformation, and understanding their effects. For the methodologically challenging chemicals (MCCs), such as Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), there is considerable uncertainty regarding their fate and transport, biotransformation and bioaccumulation that can hamper efforts to integrate exposure and effects models. PFAS as MCCs also present challenges to model evaluation, since they, by definition, are difficult to measure with traditional analytical techniques.    

A critical aspect of species extrapolation for assessing ecological risk, accounting for exposure and effect characterizations, is understanding xenobiotic metabolic capabilities and capacities across species, both in terms of detoxification and bioactivation. The role of metabolism in chemical detoxification and elimination is important as it influences chemical bioaccumulation. This research seeks to characterize the metabolites formed and compare metabolism pathways across species to better understand similarities and differences in biotransformation reactions that may lead to enhanced toxicity. Results from these efforts can then serve as a basis for predicting metabolism for untested species. Where rules can be formulated for cross-species metabolism based on transformation types leading to enhanced toxicity or detoxification, predictions of altered susceptibility can be used to better evaluate risk where empirical data is lacking.

With guidance from the mentor, the research participant may be involved in any or all of the following training activities:

  • Systematic searches of peer-reviewed literature for publications of relevant interest 
  • Reviewing and entering of chemical structural information to support the development of data-bases, knowledge infrastructure, and computational tools in support of the research mission
  • Using DER COMPOSER software for compiling biotransformation of PFAS literature – this will capture associated metabolite/degradate structures, metabolic pathways, and supporting metadata
  • QA/QC of previously COMPOSER coded PFAS biotransformation data
  • Compilation of PFAS biotransformation pathways into MetaPath database.
  • Conducting routine chemical and biochemical analyses and preparation of common reagents
  • Conducting laboratory exposures of in vitro liver microsomal and slice systems to PFAS chemicals in the interest of mapping metabolic pathways
  • Preparing solutions for chemical dosing and concentration analyses
  • Analyzing chemical form and concentration in sub-cellular samples, tissues, and exposure media using a variety of analytical instrumentation, which may include LC and GC using a variety of detectors
  • Maintaining careful and accurate records in a laboratory notebook, recording results in summary spreadsheets, write-up summary reports of sample analyses following provided guidance, and participate in research group meetings
  • Presenting research results at regional, national, and/or international conferences and workshops
  • Contributing to the preparation of peer-reviewed journal articles and disseminating research results to project partners and stakeholders

Learning ObjectivesThe research participant will learn diverse laboratory techniques which can be applied across life sciences research fields. The research participant will learn to operate and use a range of scientific equipment. The research participant will learn to evaluate data quality, trouble shoot research results, apply statistical methods for data analysis and interpretation. The research participant will be integrated into a trans-disciplinary research team and engaged in multiple aspects of project planning, communication and coordination, research implementation, and analysis. The research participant will be afforded an opportunity to interact with internationally recognized leaders, both within and outside EPA. The research participant will have the opportunity to contribute to and/or publish original research. It is expected that this training opportunity will provide an early career scientist with knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to apply new technologies and associated data to regulatory decision-making at the local, national, and/or international scale and to pursue graduate education or a professional career in life sciences research.

Mentor(s)The mentor for this opportunity is Richard Kolanczyk ( If you have questions about the nature of the research please contact the mentor(s).

Anticipated Appointment Start Date: December 1, 2022. All start dates are flexible and vary depending on numerous factors. Click here for detailed information about start dates.

Appointment LengthThe appointment initially may be for one year and may be renewed upon EPA recommendation and subject to availability of funding.

Level of ParticipationThe appointment is full-time.

Participant StipendThe participant will receive a monthly stipend commensurate with educational level and experience. Click here for detailed information about full-time stipends.

EPA Security ClearanceCompletion of a successful background investigation by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is required for an applicant to be on-boarded at EPA.

ORISE InformationThis program, administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), was established through an interagency agreement between DOE and EPA. Participants do not become employees of EPA, DOE or the program administrator, and there are no employment-related benefits. Proof of health insurance is required for participation in this program. Health insurance can be obtained through ORISE.

Questions: Please see the FAQ section of our website. After reading, if you have additional questions about the application process please email and include the reference code for this opportunity.

The qualified candidate should have received a bachelor's degree in one of the relevant fields (e.g. Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Environmental Chemistry), or be currently pursuing the degree with completion before December 31, 2022. Degree must have been received within five years of the appointment start date.

Preferred skills:

  • Knowledge and skills or experience working in a research laboratory, and good written and oral communication skills.
  • Familiarity with instrumental analysis, enzyme assays, in vitro assays, and biotransformation pathways are all desirable, but not required.  
  • Previous research experience, beyond lab-oriented course work alone.
  • Familiarity with literature search tools and strategies
  • Previous experience working with aquatic organisms such as fish and amphibians.
  • Experience conducting bioassays at the in vitro and ex-vivo scale.
  • Course work in biostatistics and/or bioinformatics
  • Advanced course work in analytical and environmental chemistry.
  • Experience with sample extraction and preparation
  • Experience working with analytical instrumentation, including high resolution mass spectrometry.
  • Computational skills (e.g., programming, R-based statistics)
  • Skills in oral and written communication 

The successful applicant(s) will be required to comply with Environmental, Safety and Health (ES&H) requirements of the hosting facility, including but not limited to, COVID-19 requirements (e.g. facial covering, physical distancing, testing, vaccination).