Could the effects of chemical toxins be transgenerational?


Research from the US suggests that the disease we develop as adults could be the result of a chemical that our mothers, grandmothers or even great-grandmothers were exposed to.

Two studies showed that the offspring of female rats exposed to vinclozolin and/or methoxychlor developed adult onset illness such as cancer and kidney disease for several generations. The research suggests that toxins may play a part in the increase in illness in certain geographical locations.

Vinclozolin is a fungicide used in the fruit industry (in the UK on peas and beans) and is known to affect the way hormones function. Pregnant female rats were exposed to vinclozolin during the period when the male embryo’s sex cells are vulnerable to being ‘reprogrammed’.

These cells will develop into sperm and so any changes will affect subsequent generations. When the off spring reach adulthood they developed a range of adult onset diseases such as breast tumours, prostate disease, kidney disease, immune system abnormalities and premature aging. The male offspring had reduced fertility but were still able to reproduce and the effect persisted through four generations with 85% of the offspring in each generation developing the conditions.

Vinclozolin is the first environmental toxin found to behave this way but researchers will now be anxious to discover whether others have
similar effects.

Readers will be both alarmed and relieved to hear that vinclozolin has just failed its European safety review under Directive 91/414 and should have been removed from the EU market by the end of December 2006. However, it remains registered for use in the US, Canada, India and South Africa.

Anway MD, Leathers C, and Skinner MK. Endocrine disrupter Vinclozolin induced epigenetic transgenerational adult onset disease 2006. Endocrinology 147; 5515-5523

Chang HS, Anway MD, Rekow SS and Skinner MK. Transgenerational epigenetic imprinting of the male germline by endocrine disrupter exposure during gonadal sex determination. 2006 Endocrinlogy, 147; 5524-5541


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First Published in Febuary 2010


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