"These kinds of problems, like sex-reversing animals skewing sex ratios, are much more dangerous than any chemical that would kill off a population of frogs," he said. "In exposed populations, it looks like there are frogs breeding but, in fact, the population is being very slowly degraded by the introduction of these altered animals."
Some 80 million pounds of the herbicide atrazine are applied annually in the United States on corn and sorghum to control weeds and increase crop yield, but such widespread use also makes atrazine the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water, according to various studies.
More and more research, however, is showing that atrazine interferes with endocrine hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone in fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, laboratory rodents and even human cell lines at levels of parts per billion. Recent studies also found a possible link between human birth defects and low birth weight and atrazine exposure in the womb.
As a result of these studies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing its regulations on use of the pesticide. Several states are considering banning atrazine, and six class action lawsuits have been filed seeking to eliminate its use. The European Union already bars the use of atrazine.
Hayes's studies in the early 2000s were the first to show that the hormonal effects of atrazine disrupt sexual development in amphibians. Working with the African clawed frog, Hayes and his colleagues showed in 2002 that tadpoles raised in atrazine-contaminated water become hermaphrodites they develop both female (ovaries) and male (testes) gonads. This occurred at atrazine levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb), 30 times lower than levels allowed in drinking water by the EPA (3 ppb).
Subsequent studies showed that native leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) coll
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley