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By Dario Aranda
Eight years of research, fifteen scientific publications and one certainty: agrochemicals generate genetic damage and lead to greater chances of contracting cancer, suffering spontaneous abortions and births with malformations. The statement comes from the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Group (GEMA), researchers from the National University of Río Cuarto (UNRC), who confirmed the health consequences of the agricultural model with studies in people and animals. Glyphosate, endosulfan, atrazine, cypermethrin, and chlorpyrifos are some of the harmful agrochemicals. "The link between genetic damage and cancer is clear," remarked Fernando Mañas, a researcher at the UNRC.
"The genotoxicity of glyphosate evaluated by the comet assay and cytogenetic tests" is the title of the research published in the scientific journal Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology (from the Netherlands). The work details the genotoxic effect (damage to genetic material) of glyphosate in human and mouse cells. They even confirmed genetic damage in human cells with doses of glyphosate in concentrations up to twenty times lower than those used in fumigations in the field.
Another of the investigations is called "Genotoxicity of AMPA (environmental metabolite of glyphosate), evaluated by the comet assay and cytogenetic tests". Published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety (from the USA). AMPA is the main product of glyphosate degradation (the herbicide is transformed, mainly by the action of bacterial enzymes in the soil, into AMPA). They confirmed that AMPA increased DNA damage in cell cultures and chromosomes in human blood cultures.
"AMPA has been shown to have as much or greater genotoxic capacity than its parent molecule, glyphosate," states the public university research.
“In various investigations we confirmed genetic damage in people exposed to agrochemicals. The chromosomal damage that we saw indicates who is at higher risk for cancer, in the medium and long term. Also other cardiovascular diseases, malformations, abortions ”, explained Fernando Mañas, doctor in Biological Sciences and part of the UNRC team. Mañas works alongside Delia Aiassa and they coordinate the research group together since 2006. At the beginning there were five researchers. Currently there are 21 with a multidisciplinary approach (biologists, veterinarians, microbiologists, psychopedagogues, veterinarians and lawyers). The common axis is the effects of exposure to chemical substances on human, environmental, and animal health. They work together with populations exposed to agrochemicals, they study chromosomes, DNA and the functioning of genetic material.
In their fifteen scientific articles, the researchers confirmed the effect of agrochemicals on genetic material, both in experimental animals in the laboratory and in human populations that were involuntarily and occupationally exposed to chemical substances. The latest research, from 2014, was carried out in children between 5 and 12 years old from Marcos Juárez and Oncativo (Córdoba), where an increase in damage to the genetic material of children was also found.
They explain that chromosome studies are about genetic material. They found high levels of genetic damage in people exposed to agrochemicals. Damage to chromosomes (genetic material) alerts that the person is at risk of developing some diseases. "The greater the genetic damage, the greater the likelihood of cancer," said Mañas.
Throughout their fifteen investigations they used different techniques. In all they confirmed genetic damage. "The agrochemicals and the damage they cause is absolutely linked to the current agricultural model," says Mañas, although he clarifies that it is an individual opinion and not a position of the entire research team. They first worked with a sample of twenty people from the outskirts of Río Cuarto. They deepened with 50 people in other locations and, later, with 80 from Las Vertientes, Marcos Juárez, Saira, Rodeo Viejo and Gigena. The most commonly found and most damaging products are glyphosate, atrazine, cypermethrin, chlorpyrifos, and endosulfan.
"Oxidative stress and comet assay in tissues of mice treated with glyphosate and AMPA" is the title of another of the investigations published in the journal Genetics Basic and Applied of Argentina. They confirmed "significant increase" in DNA damage in liver and blood. In the scientific journal Bulletin of Environmental Pollution and Toxicology (from the United States) they confirmed the genetic damage in rural workers. "These results show that human exposure to mixtures of agrochemicals can increase the risk of developing pathologies related to genotoxicity (cancer, reproductive problems and / or offspring)," the scientific publication states.
A good part of the academic group's research is present in the book Pesticides a la carte. Genetic damage and other risks that address the characteristics of pesticides, the effects on human genetic material and wild animals, the susceptibility of people and the effects of glyphosate, among other pesticides.