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Study suggest chemicals in the environment could threaten male fertility

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The key now is to work out why these everyday chemicals affect some individuals more than others.

New research from the University of Glasgow, in collaboration with academics in Edinburgh, Aberdeen (James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen) and INRA (France) has shown that fertility in a subset of men could be threatened by chemicals that are routinely found within our environment.

Humans and other animals are all constantly exposed to a whole range of chemicals in our environment including cosmetics, detergents and pollutants. Some of these chemicals can interfere with communication systems within the body and potentially have adverse effects on health and wellbeing. It has been suggested that the rise in the need for in-vitro fertilisation in humans, particularly as a result of low sperm counts, is due to exposure to chemicals in our environment.

In this study, the researchers looked at the testicles of sheep that had been exposed to the typical range of chemicals that humans encounter in everyday life, from when their mothers were pregnant until after puberty. The sheep used in study were maintained at the James Hutton Institute's Hartwood Research Station in Lanarkshire.

Dr Michelle Bellingham, from the University of Glasgow said: “We were very surprised to find abnormalities that could result in low sperm counts in the testicles in 42% of the animals.” The changes were not the same in all affected individuals and they were not obvious from the size of the testicles or from the concentration of male hormones in the blood.

Professor Paul Fowler, from the University of Aberdeen, added: "The key now is to work out why these everyday chemicals affect some individuals more than others”.

Read the full news release on the University of Glasgow website.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.