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Researchers create glowing fish to illuminate health effects of environmental chemicals

Previous research suggests that bisphenol-A (BPA) interferes with the endocrine system and can reduce male fertility, increase the risk of developing some cancers and contribute to heart disease. Now, researchers are turning to the zebrafish to learn more about how BPA and other endocrine disruptors affect the body.

As described in a University of Exeter release:

[A British] research team tested the fish's sensitivity to different chemicals known to affect oestrogen hormone signalling, including ethinyloestradiol, used in the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy treatments, nonylphenol, used in paints and industrial detergents, and Bisphenol A, which is found in many plastics.

Eventually, they produced a fish that was sufficiently sensitive to the chemicals to give fluorescent green signals to show which parts of its body were responding. This was done by placing a genetic system into the fish that amplifies the response to oestrogens producing the fluorescent green signal.

In the laboratory, [researchers] exposed the fish to chemicals at levels found in wastewaters that are discharged into our rivers. [They were] then able to observe the effects of the exposure on the fish, in real time, watching specific organs or areas of tissue glow green, in response to the chemicals.

The team identified responses in parts of the body already associated with these chemicals: for example, the liver and, in the case of Bisphenol A, the heart. They also witnessed responses in tissues that were not previously known to be targeted by these chemicals, including the skeletal muscle and eyes.

While this work is still in the preliminary stage, researchers say they hope the zebrafish model will prove useful in better understanding how the human body responds to such environmental chemicals.

Previously: Federal government tests potential health risks of 10,000 chemicals using high-speed robot, California bans BPA in baby bottles and cups and Study shows high levels of potentially toxic chemicals in pregnant women in California
Photo by University of Exeter

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