Hermaphrodite Polar Bears; Not That's There's Anything Wrong With That! On Second Thought...
"Evolution is being distorted by pollution, which damages genitals and the ability to father offspring, says new study."
Highlights from the story:
* The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.
* Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" – or gender-benders – because they interfere with hormones. These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.
* Fish, it says, are particularly affected by pollutants as they are immersed in them when they swim in contaminated water, taking them in not just in their food but through their gills and skin. They were among the first to show widespread gender-bending effects.
* Research at the University of Florida earlier this year found that 40 per cent of the male cane toads – a species so indestructible that it has become a plague in Australia – had become hermaphrodites in a heavily farmed part of the state, with another 20 per cent undergoing lesser feminisation.
* At the other end of the world, hermaphrodite polar bears – with penises and vaginas – have been discovered and gender-benders have been found to reduce sperm counts and penis lengths in those that remained male.
* Indeed, new research at the University of Rochester in New York state shows that boys born to mothers with raised levels of phthalates were more likely to have smaller penises and undescended testicles. They also had a shorter distance between their anus and genitalia, a classic sign of feminisation.
Apparently some scientists think there's something bad about this.
The study gives new meaning to the old saw - If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
(Note to regular commenters: Undescended testes and small penis jokes will be smirked at and promptly deleted. And yes, those include such jokes directed at the blog administrator.)
UPDATE: Hey there's one of those freaky polar bears now.