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Flame retardant exposure linked to birth defects

Researchers say men’s exposure to the chemicals could be problematic for future children

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Researchers have found how certain antibiotics and other prescription drugs can increase the likelihood that newborns will have birth defects, and now a new study has explored how exposure to a popular chemical can also increase the risk for this issue. 

According to researchers from the University of Georgia, the chemical polybrominated biphenyl-153 (PBB153), which is commonly found in flame retardants, has been closely linked with birth defects. The study revealed that men’s exposure to this chemical could be particularly harmful to a baby. 

“It is still a relatively new idea that a man’s exposures prior to conception can impact the health of his children,” said researcher Katherine Greeson. “Most studies where a toxic effect is observed in children look only to the mothers and the same has been true of studies conducted on PBB153.” 

Steering clear of chemicals

Exposure to PBB153 has been linked with a slew of health concerns, but most previous studies have focused on those who have had direct exposure to the chemicals and how women's exposure could be passed down genetically.

For this study, Greeson and her team wanted to understand how men's exposure to PBB153 could pose a similar risk to their kids. In the lab, the researchers were able to expose sperm cells to PBB153 and then observe the effect of the chemicals on the genetic make-up of the cells. 

They quickly observed that cells that had been exposed to the chemical were genetically much different than those that hadn’t been exposed to the chemical. 

“PBB153 causes changes to the DNA in sperm in a way that changes how the genes are turned on and off,” said Greeson. “PBB153 seems to turn on these genes in sperm which should be turned off.” 

These findings are particularly concerning because many of the cells that were affected in this way were linked to bodily development, and such exposure could impede how kids’ organs or muscles develop. 

The researchers hope that these findings highlight just how much of an effect these types of exposures can have on future generations. 

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