Sex genes of fish disrupted by common household products

BALTIMORE, Md.--Traces of ordinary products, flushed and tossed away from millions of homes, gardens and garages, are likely more harmful to the sexual development and reproduction of fish in the Chesapeake Bay than scientists previously thought. The large, shallow Bay-average depth of less than 30 feet-with hundreds of tributaries, has long been considered by ecologists as a very favorable habitat for fish spawning, hatching and nurseries.

However, today, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, scientists of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) reported that the list of compounds in human pollution that can disrupt fish sexual hormones-a concern of scientists for the past 20 years-has widened considerably.

Compounds in many detergents, plastics, pesticides, some medicines, and even thalates ("new car smell") disrupted the sexual development of juvenile zebra fish in experiments at UMBI's Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) in Baltimore.

"I would not say that it is severe enough that any population is becoming completely monosexed. However, because the Bay is so important as a nursery, chemical-induced perturbations of the reproductive and developmental processes could lead to severe consequences," said John Trant, COMB associate professor. All of the environmental pollutants were tested at concentrations that can be found in the Chesapeake Bay system.

It has been known for a long time that some environmental chemicals (endocrine disrupting chemicals; EDCs) disrupt reproduction by mimicking natural estrogens.

Trant reported that the most worrisome finding from a two-and-a-half year COMB study was that there are many additional classes of environmental chemicals that are functioning as EDCs and that these chemical are interacting directly with genes that are critical for reproductive success.

He said, unlike most

Contact: Steve Berberich
University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute

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