Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley found that African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) exposed to just 2.5 parts per billion (ppb) of atrazine for three years – a level below the 3 ppb allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in human drinking water – ended up losing their maleness and becoming chemically castrated.
Of the 40 frogs that were included as part of the experiment, 30 could no longer reproduce after 36 months of exposure to atrazine. Meanwhile, four of the frogs actually turned from male to female, and proceeded to mate with other males and successfully produce viable eggs – even though they were all born as natural males at the beginning of the study.
Only six of the 40 frogs were in any way normal at the conclusion of the study, suggesting an 85 percent damage rate resulting from exposure to atrazine at levels below what the federal government has deemed as “safe” for humans.
Just to be sure that the results weren’t erroneous, the researchers made sure to use male frogs with only ZZ sex chromosomes, meaning they couldn’t possibly have been hermaphrodites at the study’s outset. All 40 of the frogs were, in fact, males, and no other factor besides the atrazine, at least as far as this particular study is concerned, could have impacted their transitions from male to female.
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“If we got hermaphrodites, there was no way to know if they were males with ovaries or females with testes,” stated biologist and study author Tyrone Hayes. “By using all ZZ males, we were assured that any hermaphrodites or females were indeed sex-reversed males.”