Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A toxic chain reaction...

Besides devoting too much of my time to making beer, a large portion of my education at Ashland has been dedicated to the study of toxicology. I find it fascinating how chemicals interact at a molecular level and how they alter normal physiology at the biological level. I was fortunate enough to obtain an internship at the OARDC during the summer (check it out, great program) where I helped devise a new method to quickly detect several herbicides in rain water samples. This research sparked my interest in environmental toxicology. Recently I found a paper published in the letters section of Nature that explains how multiple agrochemicals can have an additive effect that causes them to disrupt the entire ecosystem. The paper, titled Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species, explains the detrimental effects of atrazine and phosphate on an amphibian population (Rohr et. al 2008).
The authors of this paper were confused as to why toads and frogs were developing strange limb malformations. They theorized that this was due to atrazine, but could not reproduce the results in lab. However, when they added elevated levels of phosphate which is commonly used on corn crops in combination with atrazine, they found that the amphibians would develop the malformations. The combination throws a one-two punch at the animals. The atrazine suppresses the immune system of the animals. The phosphate enriched environment leads to more algae and snails which increase the amount of larval trematoads. While the amphibians weakened immune system is thus more susceptible to the trematoad infections which produce the malformations (Rohr et. al. 2008).

Rohr, R. Jason et. al. Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species. 2008 Nature vol. 455 p. 1235-1239.

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