Is there a link between autism & the fungicides we use to spray our fruit and vegetables? A new study from the University of North Carolina has found that one class of fungicides led to similar genetic changes in mouse neurons to those seen in autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers exposed the rodents’ brain cells to more than 300 different pesticides and fungicides and found that strobilurins produced patterns of genetic changes often seen in these conditions. Strobilurin fungicides have only been approved for use in the past 20 years, and are sprayed in increasing quantities to protect crops such as cabbages, tomatoes, apples, pears, grapes and many others.
In recent years, strobilurin fungicides have become the largest fungicide category by market value, accounting for almost 25% of the global total. Currently, there are more than 10 key strobilurin fungicides products in the global market, with azoxystrobin, pyraclostrobin, trifloxystrobin, fluoxastrobin, kresoxim-methyl, picoxystrobin and dimoxystrobin beings the key ones.
So what did the test results actually show? They revealed that the strobilurin fungicides dampened down the activity of genes involved in synaptic transmission, the mechanism by which neurons talk to each other. Meanwhile, the activity of other genes linked to inflammation in the nervous system ramped up.
According to The Guardian, further tests showed the strobilurins caused mouse neurons to churn out more free radicals. These free radicals attacks the nearest stable molecule, disrupting its electron. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it too becomes a free radical, beginning a chain reaction. This will eventually result in the disruption of a living cell.
The study also found that the fungicides caused disruption to structures called microtubules, which affects the ability of mature neurons to communicate, and hampers the normal movement of neurons in the developing brain.
However, it’s important to note that while the fungicides produced autism-like signatures in the way genes are expressed in mouse neurons, there is not scientific evidence that the chemicals contributed to either condition.
“The study was designed to try and identify chemicals that could cause autism, but we in no way say these things do cause autism,” said lead scientist, Mark Zylka, whose study appears in Nature Communications. “What this work provides is evidence that these chemicals are bad for neurons.”
Carol Povey, director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society, said: “This new study confirms again that the causes of autism involve many complex and interacting factors, including genetics, the environment and the development of the brain.”
One things is for certain - far more research is needed to discern whether the strobilurin fungicides pose any risk to human health and this new study from Zylka and his team is a step in the right direction.
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