University of Johannesburg: UJ Zoologist Prof Ina Wagenaar scans aquatic pollution effects on the health of fish

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Professor Tshilidzi Marwala and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science Professor Debra Meyer, hosted the Professorial inauguration of Ina Wagenaar, Professor in Zoology at UJ.

The inauguration took place on Tuesday, 11 May 2021 at Ubuntu Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus.

The inaugural lecture titled: “Fish health and aquatic pollution under the microscope”, highlights research in the fields of aquatic toxicology focusing on fish as bio-indicator species and using fish histology and histopathology as endpoints to determine the effect of aquatic pollution.

Professor Wagenaar’s research is based on the cause-and-effect relationship between toxicant exposure and the associated histopathological and reproductive effects in fish. The research approach includes both field surveys of wild fish inhabiting rivers and dams, as well as controlled laboratory exposure studies. The applied methodology involves a histology-based fish health assessment protocol that allows the identification of abnormalities on cellular level using light microscopy analysis applied to all major organ systems including the identification of hepatic, renal, respiratory, cardiac and reproductive responses.

“Fish populations and their health are a growing concern as fish provide an increasingly important source of protein for humans and are part of the natural diet of both aquatic mammals and birds.”

Prof Wagenaar argued that toxicant contaminating aquatic ecosystems may affect the health of fish either indirectly through their diet or directly by uptake from the water. “However, a well-founded knowledge and understanding of normal histological structure is essential to ensure accurate and objective results. Hence, histologists must be able to distinguish between toxicant induced lesions and the range of histological characteristics considered to be normal for that specific species. However, limited histological reference material and data describing normal conditions are available for southern African fish species,” said Prof Wagenaar.

Prof Wagenaar highlighted that they have started breeding fish in toxicant-free water for baseline data that will be used as a reference in future toxicological studies. “The results from this research will contribute to close the knowledge gap on the potential effects of human pharmaceuticals on non-target aquatic animals in addition to the planned awareness campaigns and the investigation of effective wastewater treatment techniques to reduce and prevent further pharmaceutical pollution in aquatic environments.”

Prof Wagenaar graduated with a BSc, BSc(Hons), MSc and PhD in Aquatic Health from the former Rand Afrikaans University. She also holds a BEd and PhD in Education from the University of Pretoria. During the eighties (1981–1988) she was a Biology teacher for Grade 10-12 learners. She was appointed at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg as a Lecturer (1994), promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2004 and Associate Professor in 2012.

She has trained 24 MSc and 7 PhD students with 40 publications in accredited journals. She is rated as C2 NRF researcher since 2012 and was promoted to Full Professor in 2020.

She has served in leadership and management roles in the institution as a member of Faculty Board and Senate in her current role as Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Science.