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Scientists find herbicide causes frog sex change

LONDON - One of the world's most popular weedkillers, atrazine, is common in water and could be having a sex-change effect on amphibians, according to a report Wednesday.

American scientists have discovered a strong link between atrazine and hermaphrodite tendencies observed in wild leopard frogs across the U.S. Midwest.

The research by a team from the University of California at Berkeley is published in the science journal Nature.

The team took water samples at various locations and found that only one site had atrazine levels below their detection limit. "This site was the only locality where testicular oocytes were not observed in the local population of leopard frogs," they wrote. Oocytes are egg mother cells.

The scientists said atrazine was the most commonly used herbicide in the United States and probably in the world and was found in high concentrations even in nonfarming areas.

"The hermaphroditism was not evident in the absence of atrazine exposure. We conclude that atrazine is responsible for these effects in wild populations even though other contaminants may be present that could produce similar effects," they said.

The report also warned that the sex change effects might not be limited to leopard frogs but might be a threat to all amphibian species.

"As its effects are not restricted to a single species, it is possible that this herbicide may pose a threat to amphibians in general," it said. "Most water sources in the United States, including rain, contain more atrazine than the effective doses determined in laboratory studies," the report said.

It concluded with a call for further investigations into the link between atrazine and sex organ abnormalities in amphibians.

Copyright 2002, Reuters
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