Gene expression is a unique way of characterizing how cells and organisms adapt to changes in the external environment. The measurements of gene expression levels upon exposure to a chemical can be used both to provide information about the mechanism of action of the toxicant and to form a sort of “genetic signature” for the identification of toxic products. The development of high-quality, commercially available gene arrays has allowed this technology to become a standard tool in molecular toxicology. Several national and international initiatives have provided the proof-of-principle tests for the application of gene expression for the study of the toxicity of new and existing chemical compounds. In the last few years the field has progressed from evaluating the potential of the technology to illustrating the practical use of gene expression profiling in toxicology. The application of gene expression profiling to ecotoxicology is at an earlier stage, mainly because of the the many variables involved in analyzing the status of natural populations. Nevertheless, significant studies have been carried out on the response to environmental stressors both in model and in nonmodel organisms. It can be easily predicted that the development of stressor-specific signatures in gene expression profiling in ecotoxicology will have a major impact on the ecotoxicology field in the near future. International collaborations could play an important role in accelerating the application of genomic approaches in ecotoxicology
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