The basic pillars of VERIFIN are research, verification analysis, tasks of national authority and training. VERIFIN has done sustainable contribution to chemical disarmament by focusing on the development and dissemination of analytical chemistry techniques and tools for the verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
The development and validation of quantitative methods for ricin and abrin toxins and saxitoxin are on research focus of the Institute. The former EU project, EQuATox conducted during 2012–2014, has strengthened the capacity of the Institute for analysis of these biotoxins. The
EQuATox consortium also showed that there is a lack of robustness in European preparedness for biotoxin incidents and highlighted the need for a laboratory network to spread the information about available methods and reagents. The fiveyear Horizon 2020 project “European programme for the establishment of validated procedures for the detection and identification of biological toxins” (EuroBioTox) started in June 2017 and covers five toxins: saxitoxin, ricin, abrin, botulinum
neurotoxin, and staphylococcus enterotoxin B.
The project will produce certified reference materials and reagents, and organize trainings and proficiency tests. In 2020, the second proficiency test for STX was organized by VERIFIN. The project is coordinated by Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Germany. Thirteen institutions from seven countries are core members for this project. Additionally, the EuroBioTox network involves a total of 60 institutions from 23 countries. Dr. Anne Puustinen from VERIFIN is the coordinator of the training work package of the project. The practical training courses aim to increase the technical capabilities of the laboratories for the analysis of biotoxin samples through exchange of knowledge, networking, improvement of technical capacities, and harmonization of analytical methods.
Decision Aid for Marine Munitions: Practical application (DAIMON 2) is the continuation of DAIMON (2016-2019) and CHEMSEA (2011-2014) projects. In the DAIMON project, a Decision Support System (DSS) software was developed for efficient management of the ammunitions (both chemical and conventional) and the dumping sites. VERIFIN’s role was to develop and optimize methods for analysis of CWA’s and toxic explosives related chemicals from sediment and pore water samples. Additionally, sophisticated high-resolution mass spectrometry techniques were developed to identify novel CWA-related chemicals from sediment samples. VERIFIN also developed novel analytical methods for CWA related chemicals in fish and mussel tissues, as well as in in vitro metabolism studies with fish hepatocytes.
In the ongoing DAIMON 2 project, the DSS will be made available to authorities dealing with the implications of the munitions dumped in the Baltic Sea. DAIMON 2 offers training in using the new tools and develops them further into standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for the environmental impact assessment. The DSS will be promoted in a series of stakeholder events and trainings based on real-life scenarios created by DAIMON 2 experts. VERIFIN leads the collection of the SOPs (WP3) and participates in the DSS trainings, which will be arranged remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
GIDPROvis (Gas Ion Distillation and Sequential Ion Processing Technologies for Identification and Visualization of Chemicals in Airborne Vapours) is a project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 FET Open programme, where novel detector technology is to be developed by a consortium coordinated by VERIFIN. This is the first time for the University of Helsinki to receive this highly competitive funding. GIDPROvis was kicked off in October 2020 and Professor Gary Eiceman, a world leader in development of ion mobility technology, has joined the VERIFIN team as a co-leader of the highly anticipated project.
In GIDPROvis, two original breakthrough technologies - Gas Ion Distillation (GID) and Sequential Ion Processing (PRO) - provide live visualization (vis) of volatile chemicals in ambient environments, providing humans access to a previously unseen world of molecules. Molecular auras in GIDPROvis are delivered by small, portable GIDPRO analysers based on high speed separation of ions derived from individual chemicals and their identification using an emerging generation of ion analysers.
While GIDPROvis is principally technology driven, aspects of human emotional responses to massive access to chemical information, impacts from these perceptions, and human psychology will be explored in simulated, controlled visual experiences of chemical auras. In addition to ground-breaking research goal, GIDPROvis project has committed to engaging young generations, and these activities are well underway as two high school students from the Normal Lyceum of Helsinki joined the project in late 2020.
The WARTOX project (Chemical warfare agents in the Baltic Sea: biotransformation products and their toxicity) is a joint consortium project funded by the Academy of Finland. The key partners in the project are VERIFIN and SYKE (Finnish Environment Institute). WARTOX builds on previous projects (CHEMSEA and DAIMON) regarding the historical dumping practices of CWAs in European coastal waters.
Studies carried out during the past 15 years have proven that corroded munitions containing CWAs are leaking and therefore causing potential risk to the marine environment. Thus far the research in the marine environment has focused only on intact and primary degradation products of toxic phenyl arsenic CWAs and sulphur mustard. In order to make comprehensive risk assessments, total chemical burden and characteristics of dumped CWAs and their degradation products must be known. An essential scientific aim of this study is to identify yet unknown CWA-related chemicals produced by Baltic Sea sediment microbiota. These chemicals have most likely significant impact on total CWA burden in marine environment.
For environmental risk assessment, key information on bioaccumulation, toxicity thresholds and biological effects of these biodegradation products in aquatic organisms are provided by this project. Microbial community changes and biotransformation pathways are identified by amplicon sequencing, metagenomics and - transcriptomics in CWA contaminated sediments and CWA-spiked reference sediments sampled from the Baltic Sea. The biotransformation products are identified by using sophisticated structure elucidation methods in sediments and aquatic organisms. Fish cell line assays will be used to study cytotoxicity and cellular metabolism. Toxicity, bioaccumulation and sublethal biological effects will be evaluated using standard invertebrate and vertebrate biotest organisms. The expected results include an updated list of the target chemicals to be used in monitoring as well as toxicity thresholds for risk assessment.
The societal aim of the project is to increase public awareness of sea-dumped munitions and to disseminate the project results to authorities and decision makers dealing with dumped munitions via internationally established networks, including input to a dedicated decision support system; national authorities responsible for maritime spatial planning such as granting permissions to various construction activities can utilize the data produced in the project in the decision making processes.