Back in 2009, I wrote about birth defect rates after anthrax vaccine, and noted that the rate of major birth defects was about 3.0% in the US population overall. But the rate is higher in the military: in offspring of military women who did not receive anthrax vaccine prior to pregnancy, the birth defect rate is 3.85--4.0%. In female military servicemembers who received anthrax vaccine before or during their pregnancies, the birth defect rate rises to 4.5--4.7%.
Why is the birth defect rate higher for offspring of military mothers who did not receive anthrax vaccine than for civlian moms? This report hints at an answer. Exposure to toxic materials is widespread in the military and almost impossible to avoid, although less than in years past.
Pollutants long gone, but disease carries onExposure to certain pollutants early in a rat’s pregnancy can foster disease in her offspring during their adulthood as well as in subsequent generations, a new study shows. A wide range of pollutants elicited such lasting effects, despite future generations never encountering the triggering pollutant.Certain chemicals cause epigenetic changes that foster illness in rats’ offspring
Some chemicals tested led to premature puberty among great-granddaughters, with an increased risk of disease in reproductive tissues. In some tests, the chemicals disrupted ovarian function, something that in humans could lead to infertility or premature menopause. And another chemical exposure caused premature death of sperm-forming cells in the great-grandsons, researchers report online February 28 in PLoS ONE.
Rather than altering genes, the tested pollutants altered chemical switches that regulate genes, reports Michael Skinner and his colleagues at Washington State University in Pullman. These epigenetic switches can lock a gene on or off...
In the new work, Skinner worked with the Army, which funded the study, to identify pollutants to which troops would probably be exposed. They settled on dioxins (spewed by burning materials or the defoliant Agent Orange); the insect deterrents DEET and permethrin; the plastic ingredients bisphenol A and phthalates; and jet fuel (often sprayed onto dirt for dust control). “I tried to pick classes of compounds that were across the whole [pollutant] spectrum — everything from hydrocarbons down to an endocrine disruptor like bisphenol A,” Skinner says.
The exposures used were relatively high, but not high enough to cause fetal deaths or signs of toxicity in either exposed rat moms or their pups. Yet “all promoted epigenetic transgenerational changes,” Skinner says. This suggests that epigenetic changes that get passed down through the generations are not some unique quirk of any one chemical, he says; he now suspects most pollutants have the potential to do this...