Seeds of concern

Seeds of concern

During the past few decades, worries about environmental threats to human health have centred on the possible induction of cancers. Now risks to the male germ line, both real and potential, are also causing disquiet.

What do male alligators in Florida and male industrial workers in California have in common? The answer is that, in the latter part of the twentieth century, both provided landmark case histories showing the severe effects that pesticides can have on fertility. Since then investigations of the adverse influence of ‘xenobiotics’ — molecules that are foreign to biological systems — on male reproduction have turned up more evidence, of various kinds, that all is not well in the man’s world.

During the past 50 years, the rapid expansion of the chemicals industry in both the developed and developing worlds has resulted in the release of a plethora of xenobiotics into the environment1,2. These alien molecules have worked their way into our lives in a variety of forms, including pesticides, herbicides, cosmetics, preservatives, cleaning materials, municipal and private waste, pharmaceuticals and industrial by-products. Awareness of the biological risks of chemical toxicity has increased considerably in recent years, but some of these chemicals have long half-lives and have been detected in environmental samples 10–20 years after they were banned for sale or use.


03 November 2004

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