Toxicology fellow studies the potential neurotoxicity of a common pesticide Meet Saroj Amar


Saroj Amar has been researching how the common pesticide ethyl-parathion might harm soldiers and impact a broader population.  (Photo Credit: Saroj Amar)

Saroj Amar

Saroj Amar has been researching how the common pesticide ethyl-parathion might harm soldiers and impact a broader population.  (Photo Credit: Saroj Amar)

Though the benefits of a scientific study are often set with one goal in mind, scientists frequently discover multiple applications for their results along the way. For Saroj Amar, his study on neurotoxicity  was designed in hopes of applying it to Army use. However, he has discovered that it isn’t only soldiers who could benefit from his research.

Before he was a student of toxicology Amar was inspired to study hard by his father, a farmer from Harsinghpur, India. With his father’s encouragement, Amar went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delhi and eventually his doctorate degree in toxicology from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, in Lucknow, India.

Today, Amar is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Participation Programs for the U. S. Department of Defense, where he is conducting research for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) at the Environmental Laboratory (EL). It is here he would begin his study of neurotoxicity and its varied real-world applications.

The EL is one of the seven laboratories of U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE-ERDC), which is the Army Corps of Engineers' integrated research and development (R&D) organization. The EL provides solutions to environmental challenges for the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense and the nation through environmental science and engineering research and development.

Alongside his mentor Kurt Gust, Amar is focusing his research on pesticide neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity, which is the toxification of the nervous system caused by a biological or chemical agent, can be deadly, even though many individuals afflicted do survive. Many pesticides are known neurotoxins, with certain kinds of pesticides having been linked to adverse health effects. For example, the pesticide chlorpyrifos was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency as the risk to human health was determined to be unacceptable.

Along with a large interdisciplinary team to study mammalian neurotoxicity in a rodent model system, Amar is investigating neurotoxicological responses in exposures to the pesticide ethyl-parathion. In his study he measures rodent cognitive and physical abilities after exposure to ethyl-parathion aerosol inhalation and ethyl-parathion incorporated into soil dust.

Through this study Amar hopes to evaluate the risk pesticide inhalation poses to soldiers in the field. Additionally, Amar is conducting non-animal model assay development, which is when a compound’s activity is measured or tested in organic environments. This will further the USACE’s efforts to provide screenings for neurotoxicity in soldiers.

“Ultimately, we are providing test-cases for rapid non-animal-based screenings of toxic industrial chemical exposure on soldier health,” he explained. “This will help make informed decisions that can mitigate harmful exposures that may jeopardize soldier health.”

Even though the goal is to benefit the health of soldiers, the study also has wider potential, says Amar. Pesticide exposure is not just a risk for soldiers but also for those in the agricultural industry. Pesticides are commonly used in agriculture to reduce the damage insects can cause to crops, and Amar’s study is expected to provide data that can be used to assess and minimize health risks.

“The wide application of this pesticide, ethyl-parathion, in agriculture has a huge impact on farmers, as well as workers,” continued Amar. “Environmental contamination of pesticides has societal concerns, as ethyl-parathion is a common pesticide with toxicology importance because of potential poisoning.”

Amar has presented his findings at several conferences and webinars and won first place for his poster at the Society of Toxicology (SOT) annual meeting in 2021. During the 2022 SOT annual meeting, his research received the Food Safety Elsevier Postdoctoral Award that included a cash prize.

Being a fellow with the Department of Defense is a privilege, said Amar, and he enjoys the experience of researching with others in his field, such as his mentor Kurt Gust. He recommends the program to postdoctoral students. For now, Amar and his team will continue their research and are preparing a manuscript of their findings for peer review.

Amar began as the son of a committed farmer who motivated him to study hard. And now, after many years of study, Amar’s research with the USACE may help not only U.S. solders but U.S. citizens too.

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Participation Program at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is administered by ORAU through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the DoD and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE focuses on scientific initiatives including educating the next generation of scientists.