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A genetically engineered fish that glows green from the inside out is helping illuminate what pollutants do inside the body.
Endocrine disruptors are substances found in a wide range of industrial products, including plastics, as well as in many female contraceptives.
The chemicals mimic the actions of sexual hormones, resulting in various reproductive problems in both people and animals. Previous research has shown the chemicals cause fish to change gender, and in people, endocrine disruptors have been associated with lower sperm counts and breast and testicular cancers.
Yet scientists have had difficulty tracking what endocrine disruptors do inside a person or an animal's body. So a team genetically engineered zebrafish to glow in places where an endocrine-disrupting chemical is present—and thus show where it may be harming the body.
Glowing Fish Confirm Past Findings
Tyler and team exposed the zebrafish to varying levels of chemicals known to affect the hormone estrogen, including ethinyloestradiol, found in contraceptive pills; nonylphenol, present in paints and industrial detergents; and bisphenol A (BPA), a component of many plastics.
All of these substances have become common freshwater pollutants that are connected to problems such as gender changes in fish and decreased fertility and increased cases of cancer in people. (Related: "Sex-Changing Chemicals Found in Potomac River.")