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Plastic Isn't Fantastic

A chemical common in plastic production affects fertility

10 February 2020

Plastic Isn't Fantastic

Plastic has changed the world, for better and for worse. While plastic products have revolutionised many aspects of modern life, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of the chemicals used to make them can have harmful impacts on health and the environment. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is one of the most common chemicals used in the production of plastic toys, clothes, food packaging and more, meaning that most people are exposed to it on a daily basis. Worryingly, DEHP is suspected to cause fertility problems in humans. By comparing egg cells in tiny worms that have been exposed to DEHP (right) with eggs from untreated animals, researchers have discovered that DEHP creates breaks in DNA (red spots) and also interferes with the repair processes that should fix them. In turn, these damaged eggs create damaged embryos. The findings highlight the urgent need to reduce exposure to DEHP and find safer alternatives.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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