Alejandro J Ramirez

Baylor University, Waco, TX, United States

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Publications (12)47.55 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: A comparative understanding of effluent quality of decentralized on-site wastewater treatment systems, particularly for contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), remains less understood than effluent quality from centralized municipal wastewater treatment plants. Using a novel experimental facility with common influent wastewater, effluent water quality from a decentralized advanced aerobic treatment system (ATS) and a typical septic treatment system (STS) coupled to a subsurface flow constructed wetland (WET) were compared to effluent from a centralized municipal treatment plant (MTP). The STS did not include soil treatment, which may represent a system not functioning properly. Occurrence and discharge of a range of CECs were examined using isotope dilution liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry during fall and winter seasons. Conventional parameters, including total suspended solids, carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand and nutrients were also evaluated from each treatment system. Water quality of these effluents was further examined using a therapeutic hazard modeling approach. Of 19 CECs targeted for study, the benzodiazepine pharmaceutical diazepam was the only CEC not detected in all wastewater influent and effluent samples over two sampling seasons. Diphenhydramine, codeine, diltiazem, atenolol, and diclofenac exhibited significant (p<0.05) seasonal differences in wastewater influent concentrations. Removal of CECs by these wastewater treatment systems was generally not influenced by season. However, significant differences (p<0.05) for a range of water quality indicators were observed among the various treatment technologies. For example, removal of most CECs by ATS was generally comparable to MTP. Lowest removal of most CECs was observed for STS; however, removal was improved when coupling the STS to a WET. Across the treatment systems examined, the majority of pharmaceuticals observed in on-site and municipal effluent discharges were predicted to potentially present therapeutic hazards to fish.
    Science of The Total Environment 08/2013; 466-467C:976-984. · 3.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The amino acid substitution or post-translational modification of a cytosolic protein can cause unpredictable changes to its electrophoretic mobility during SDS-PAGE. This type of "gel shifting" has perplexed biochemists and biologists for decades. We identify a mechanism for "gel shifting" that predominates among a set of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) mutant hSOD1 (superoxide dismutase) proteins, post-translationally modified hSOD1 proteins, and homologous SOD1 proteins from different organisms. By first comparing how 39 amino acid substitutions throughout hSOD1 affected SDS-PAGE migration, we found that substitutions that caused gel shifting occurred within a single polyacidic domain (residues ~80-101), and were nonisoelectric. Substitutions that decreased the net negative charge of domain 80-101 increased migration; only one substitution increased net negative charge and slowed migration. Capillary electrophoresis, circular dichroism, and size exclusion chromatography demonstrated that amino acid substitutions increase migration during SDS-PAGE by promoting the binding of three to four additional SDS molecules, without significantly altering the secondary structure or Stokes radius of hSOD1-SDS complexes. The high negative charge of domain 80-101 is required for SOD1 gel shifting: neutralizing the polyacidic domain (via chimeric mouse-human SOD1 fusion proteins) inhibited amino acid substitutions from causing gel shifting. These results demonstrate that the pattern of gel shifting for mutant cytosolic proteins can be used to: (i) identify domains in the primary structure that control interactions between denatured cytosolic proteins and SDS and (ii) identify a predominant chemical mechanism for the interaction (e.g., hydrophobic vs. electrostatic).
    Protein Science 06/2012; 21(8):1197-209. · 2.74 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Pharmaceuticals in the environment are often present at trace levels (e.g., ng/L) in surface waters and effluents of developed countries, yet represent contaminants of emerging concern. Attributes of many of these substances, such as potency, chirality, and ionization, present challenges to historical environmental risk assessment and management paradigms. In this chapter, we critically examine several important aspects of pharmaceuticals, specifically highlighting some of the lessons we have learned from studying these substances in the environment over the past 15 years. We submit that incorporating such "lessons learned" during environmental risk assessments promises to reduce uncertainties and support more sustainable management efforts.
    Progress in molecular biology and translational science 01/2012; 112:231-58. · 2.32 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Quercetin dioxygenase (QDO) catalyzes the oxidation of the flavonol quercetin with dioxygen, cleaving the central heterocyclic ring and releasing CO. The QDO from Bacillus subtilis is unusual in that it has been shown to be active with several divalent metal cofactors such as Fe, Mn, and Co. Previous comparison of the catalytic activities suggest that Mn(II) is the preferred cofactor for this enzyme. We herein report the unprecedented substitution of nitrosyl hydride (HNO) for dioxygen in the activity of Mn-QDO, resulting in the incorporation of both N and O atoms into the product. Turnover is demonstrated by consumption of quercetin and other related substrates under anaerobic conditions in the presence of HNO-releasing compounds and the enzyme. As with dioxygenase activity, a nonenzymatic base-catalyzed reaction of quercetin with HNO is observed above pH 7, but no enhancement of this basal reactivity is found upon addition of divalent metal salts. Unique and regioselective N-containing products ((14)N/(15)N) have been characterized by MS analysis for both the enzymatic and nonenzymatic reactions. Of the several metallo-QDO enzymes examined for nitroxygenase activity under anaerobic condition, only the Mn(II) is active; the Fe(II) and Co(II) substituted enzymes show little or no activity. This result represents an enzymatic catalysis which we denote nitroxygenase activity; the unique reactivity of the Mn-QDO suggests a metal-mediated electron transfer mechanism rather than metal activation of the substrate's inherent base-catalyzed reactivity.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2011; 108(47):18926-31. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are being increasingly reported in a variety of biological matrices, including fish tissue; however, screening studies have presently not encompassed broad geographical areas. A national pilot study was initiated in the United States to assess the accumulation of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in fish sampled from five effluent-dominated rivers that receive direct discharge from wastewater treatment facilities in Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; and West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA. Fish were also collected from the Gila River, New Mexico, USA, as a reference condition expected to be minimally impacted by anthropogenic influence. High performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis of pharmaceuticals revealed the presence of norfluoxetine, sertraline, diphenhydramine, diltiazem, and carbamazepine at nanogram-per-gram concentrations in fillet composites from effluent-dominated sampling locations; the additional presence of fluoxetine and gemfibrozil was confirmed in liver tissue. Sertraline was detected at concentrations as high as 19 and 545 ng/g in fillet and liver tissue, respectively. Gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis of personal care products in fillet composites revealed the presence of galaxolide and tonalide at maximum concentrations of 2,100 and 290 ng/g, respectively, and trace levels of triclosan. In general, more pharmaceuticals were detected at higher concentrations and with greater frequency in liver than in fillet tissues. Higher lipid content in liver tissue could not account for this discrepancy as no significant positive correlations were found between accumulated pharmaceutical concentrations and lipid content for either tissue type from any sampling site. In contrast, accumulation of the personal care products galaxolide and tonalide was significantly related to lipid content. Results suggest that the detection of pharmaceuticals and personal care products was dependent on the degree of wastewater treatment employed.
    Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 04/2009; 28(12):2587-97. · 2.62 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Sulfamethoxazole (SMX) is among the most frequently detected antibiotics in the environment, heavily used in both human therapy and agriculture. Like other sulfonamides, SMX disrupts the folate biosynthetic pathway in bacteria, which was recently established as identical to that of plants, raising concerns over nontarget toxicity. Consequently, Lemna gibba was exposed to SMX to evaluate phytotoxic potency and mode of action (MOA) by HPLC-MS/MS measurement of p-aminobenzoic acid (pABA) metabolite levels, a precursor to folate biosynthesis and substrate of the target enzyme dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS). pABA levels were found to increase upon exposure to SMX following an exponential rise to a maxima regression model in a concentration-dependent manner. The EC50 for pABA content was 3.36 microg/L, 20 times lower than that of fresh weight (61.6 microg/L) and 40 times lower than frond number (132 microg/L) responses. These results suggest that, as in bacteria, sulfonamide antibiotics specifically disrupt folate biosynthesis via inhibition of DHPS. Analysis of pABA concentrations appears to provide a sulfonamide-specific biomarker of effect based on MOA with exceptional diagnostic capacity and sensitivity compared to traditional morphological end points. Using the EC50 for pABA content, a potential hazard was identified for L. gibba exposed to SMX, which would not have been detected based upon traditional standardized morphological approaches.
    Environmental Science and Technology 01/2009; 42(23):8965-70. · 5.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Two screening methods have been developed for simultaneous determination of ten extensively used personal care products (PCPs) and two alkylphenol surfactants in fish. The methods consisted of extraction, clean-up, derivatization and analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with selected ion monitoring (GC-SIM-MS) or gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) techniques. Among solvents tested to assess recovery of target compounds from 1-g tissue homogenates, acetone was selected as optimal for extracting compounds with dissimilar physicochemical properties from fish tissue. Initial experiments confirmed that GC-SIM-MS could be applied for analysis of lean fillet tissue (<1% lipid) without gel-permeation chromatography (GPC), and this approach was applied to assess the presence of target analytes in fish fillets collected from a regional effluent-dominated stream in Texas, USA. Benzophenone, galaxolide, tonalide, and triclosan were detected in 11 of 11 environmental samples at concentrations ranging from; 37 to 90, 234 to 970, 26 to 97, and 17 to 31 ng/g, respectively. However, performance of this analytical approach declined appreciably with increasing lipid content of analyzed tissues. Successful analysis of samples with increased lipid content was enabled by adding GPC to the sample preparation protocol and monitoring analytes with tandem mass spectrometry. Both analytical approaches were validated using fortified fillet tissue collected from locations expected to be minimally impacted by anthropogenic influences. Average analyte recoveries ranged from 87% to 114% with RSDs <11% and from 54% to 107% with RSDs <20% for fish tissue containing <1% and 4.9% lipid, respectively. Statistically derived method detection limits (MDLs) for GC-SIM-MS and GC-MS/MS methodologies ranged from 2.4 to 16 ng/g, and 5.1 to 397 ng/g, respectively.
    Journal of Chromatography A 12/2008; 1216(5):815-23. · 4.61 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Many contaminants are chiral compounds with enantiomers that may differ markedly in environmental fate, bioavailability, and toxicity. Enantiospecific environmental fate and ecotoxicological information are lacking for many chiral contaminants. The primary objective of this investigation included an assessment of potential enantiospecific differences in sublethal standardized and behavioral responses of the model organisms Pimephales promelas (teleost) and Daphnia magna (crustacean) to the widely prescribed chiral antidepressant fluoxetine. Endpoints assessed included D. magna immobilization, reproduction, and grazing rate and P. promelas survival, growth, and feeding rate. S-Fluoxetine was found to be more toxic to sublethal standardized and behavioral endpoints in P. promelas, potentially because its primary active metabolite, S-norfluoxetine, is more potent than the same metabolite of R-fluoxetine in mammals. This was not observed for D. magna responses. This differential enantiospecific response between model organisms may have resulted from closer target homology between mammals and fish than between mammals and crustaceans. P. promelas feeding rate, an ecologically relevant and mode-of-action related response, was the most sensitive endpoint tested for R- and S-fluoxetine with 10% effect concentration (EC10) values (+/-SE) of 16.1 (+/-20.2) and 3.7 (+/-4.6) microg l(-1), respectively. Up to a 9.4-fold difference in toxicity between enantiomers was observed; P. promelas growth EC10s (+/-SE) for R- and S-fluoxetine were 132.9 (+/-21.2) and 14.1 (+/-8.1) microg l(-1), respectively. Such differences in sublethal responses to fluoxetine enantiomers suggest that enantiospecific toxicity and mode-of-action related responses that are ecologically relevant (e.g., feeding rate) should be considered in future ecological hazard and risk assessments for chiral contaminants.
    Chemosphere 09/2007; 69(1):9-16. · 3.14 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) screening method has been developed targeting 23 pharmaceuticals and 2 metabolites with differing physicochemical properties in fish tissue. Reversed-phase separation of target compounds was achieved using a C18 column and a nonlinear gradient consisting of 0.1% (v/v) formic acid and methanol. Eluted analytes were introduced into the mass analyzer using positive or negative electrospray ionization, as appropriate. A variety of extraction solvents, differing in polarity, pH, or both, were investigated in order to assess recovery of target compounds from 1-g tissue homogenates. Among 10 solvents tested, a 1:1 mixture of 0.1 M aqueous acetic acid (pH 4) and methanol was identified as optimal, resulting in extraction recoveries for 24 of 25 compounds exceeding 60%. Tissue extracts were found to influence the LC-MS/MS response for several analytes. Consequently, matrix-matched calibration standards were employed to determine analyte concentrations in environmental samples. Statistically derived method detection limits were <6 ng/g for most analytes. The method was subsequently used to screen for target analytes in fish from an effluent-dominated stream. Diphenhydramine, diltiazem, carbamazepine, and norfluoxetine were detected in 11 of 11 environmental samples at concentrations ranging from 0.11 to 5.14 ng/g.
    Analytical Chemistry 04/2007; 79(8):3155-63. · 5.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Propranolol is a widely prescribed, nonselective beta-adrenergic receptor-blocking agent. Propranolol has been detected in municipal effluents from the ng/L to the low-microg/L range. Like many therapeutics and other aquatic contaminants, propranolol is distributed as a racemic mixture ((R,S)-propranolol hydrochloride). Although the (S)-enantiomer is the most active form in mammals (up to 100-fold difference), no information is available regarding the enantiospecific toxicity of propranolol to aquatic organisms. Acute and chronic studies were conducted with Daphnia magna and Pimephales promelas to determine enantiospecific toxicity of propranolol to a model aquatic invertebrate and vertebrate, respectively. Also, enantiospecific effects of propranolol on D. magna heart rate were examined. Propranolol treatment levels were verified using high-performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. Acute (48-h) responses of both organisms were similar for all enantiomer treatments. Chronic P. promelas responses to propranolol enantiomers followed the hypothesized relationship of (S)-propranolol being more toxic than (R)-propranolol, but chronic D. magna responses did not. This is potentially the result of a lack of beta-type receptors in cladocerans. No enantiospecific effects on daphnid heart rate were observed in acute exposures. Interestingly, some propranolol enantiomer treatments produced significant increases in reproduction before causing reproduction to decrease at higher treatment levels. To our knowledge, this research represents the first study of enantiospecific toxicity of chiral pharmaceutical pollutants.
    Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 08/2006; 25(7):1780-6. · 2.62 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Propranolol is a widely prescribed, nonselective β-adrenergic receptor–blocking agent. Propranolol has been detected in municipal effluents from the ng/L to the low-μg/L range. Like many therapeutics and other aquatic contaminants, propranolol is distributed as a racemic mixture ((R,S)-propranolol hydrochloride). Although the (S)-enantiomer is the most active form in mammals (up to 100-fold difference), no information is available regarding the enantiospecific toxicity of propranolol to aquatic organisms. Acute and chronic studies were conducted with Daphnia magna and Pimephales promelas to determine enantiospecific toxicity of propranolol to a model aquatic invertebrate and vertebrate, respectively. Also, enantiospecific effects of propranolol on D. magna heart rate were examined. Propranolol treatment levels were verified using high-performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. Acute (48-h) responses of both organisms were similar for all enantiomer treatments. Chronic P. promelas responses to propranolol enantiomers followed the hypothesized relationship of (S)-propranolol being more toxic than (R)-propranolol, but chronic D. magna responses did not. This is potentially the result of a lack of β-type receptors in cladocerans. No enantiospecific effects on daphnid heart rate were observed in acute exposures. Interestingly, some propranolol enantiomer treatments produced significant increases in reproduction before causing reproduction to decrease at higher treatment levels. To our knowledge, this research represents the first study of enantiospecific toxicity of chiral pharmaceutical pollutants.
    Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 01/2006; 25(7). · 2.62 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Increasing evidence indicates widespread occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in municipal effluent discharges and surface waters. Studies that characterize the fate and effects of PPCPs in aquatic systems are limited, and to our knowledge, data regarding pharmaceutical accumulation in fish of effluent-dominated ecosystems have not been previously reported. In the present study, fish populations were sampled from a reference stream and an effluent-dominated stream in north Texas, USA. Lepomis macrochirus, Ictalurus punctatus, Cyprinus carpio, and Pomoxis nigromaculatus were killed; the liver, brain, and lateral filet tissues dissected; and the tissues stored at -80 degrees C until analysis. Fish tissues were extracted using solid-phase extraction and then analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry in the negative chemical ionization mode. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) fluoxetine and sertraline and the SSRI metabolites norfluoxetine and desmethylsertraline were detected at levels greater than 0.1 ng/g in all tissues examined from fish residing in a municipal effluent-dominated stream. To our knowledge, the present study is the first report of SSRI residues in fish residing within municipal effluent-dominated systems.
    Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 03/2005; 24(2):464-9. · 2.62 Impact Factor