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Charles Wurster

Associate Professor Emeritus



- Stanford University

Research Topics:

PCB persistence and public policy


  • Bio/Research


    Charles Wurster has long been interested in the effects of stable chlorinated hydrocarbon pollutants on marine plankton communities. Focusing on those chemicals found regularly in the environment (polychlorinated biphenyls, or PBs; DDT; DDE; and dieldrin), he and his coworkers have studied the effects on individual species, mixed cultures, and natural phytoplankton and zooplankton communities in an attempt to understand the impact of these chemicals on aquatic ecosystems.

    They have found that the growth of some species of algae is inhibited by chlorinated hydrocarbon concentrations as low as the parts per trillion range. This sensitivity varies greatly with the species, the supply of nutrients, the temperature, light intensity, and the site of origin of the clone. Furthermore, selective toxicity may alter the species composition within the community.

    Currently, Wurster is studying the development of resistance to toxic chemical pollutants by phytoplankton. He has found that phytoplankton from chronically polluted areas are more resistant to toxic pollutants than are those from unpolluted areas. In fact, cross-resistance to other toxicants sometimes develops when resistant strains are produced in the laboratory. He is currently investigating the mechanisms by which

    phytoplankton become resistant to toxic pollutants.

    Concurrent with traditional laboratory research, he has had a long-term concern with the involvement of science in the development of public policy on issues of environmental importance. For 25 years, Wurster has been substantially involved with the Environmental Defense Fund, a

    non-profit, public benefit organization that seeks to combine science, economics, and law to influence public policy for environmental protection. 

  • Publications


    Cohn, M.K.; West, A.S.; Cosper, E.M.; Wurster, C.F. Mechanisms of resistance to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in two species of marine diatoms. Journal of Marine Biological Association, U.K.; 71 , 1991.

    Ruben, HJ.; Cosper, E.M.; Wurster, C.F. Influence of light intensity and photo-adaptation on the toxicity of PCB to a marine diatom. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry; 9:777-784; 1990.

    R. j. Whyte; Wurster, C.F. Impact of endosulfan on waterbirds in cotton growing areas. Report to New South Wales State Pollution Control Commission (Australia); 52 pp. 1989.

    Wurster, C.F. Birds often warn of environmental degradation. EDF Letter, Environmental Defense Fund, October; 1989

    Fisher, N. S., Graham, L. B., Carpenter, E. J., & WURSTER, C. F. (1973). Geographic differences in phytoplankton sensitivity to PCBs.  Nature241(5391), 548.

    Mosser, J. L., Fisher, N. S., & Wurster, C. F. (1972). Polychlorinated biphenyls and DDT alter species composition in mixed cultures of algae.  Science176(4034), 533-535.

    Wurster, C. F. (1968). DDT Reduces Photosynthesis by Madne Phytoplankton.  Science159(3822), 1474-1475.

    Wurster, C. F., & Wingate, D. B. (1968). DDT residues and declining reproduction in the Bermuda petrel.  Science159(3818), 979-981.

    Woodwell, G. M., Wurster, C. F., & Isaacson, P. A. (1967). DDT residues in an east coast estuary: a case of biological concentration of a persistent insecticide.  Science156(3776), 821-824.

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