April 16, 2019

Hartpury lecturer researches damage caused to male fertility by pollutants

A Hartpury University lecturer has found that man-made chemicals found in homes could be having a damaging effect on male fertility.

The ground-breaking research was undertaken by Dr Rebecca Sumner, a lecturer in BSc Equine Science with Therapy at Hartpury University, together with scientists from the University of Nottingham, suggests environmental contaminants found in the home and diet have adverse effects on male fertility in both humans and in domestic dogs.

Over recent years there has been increasing concern over declining human male fertility as studies have shown a 50% global reduction in sperm quality in the past 80 years. Studies have revealed that sperm quality in domestic dogs has also declined.

Dr Sumner and the University of Nottingham team have researched the effects of two man-made chemicals – the common plasticizer DEHP and the persistent industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153 – on human and canine sperm. DEHP is present in everyday household materials, such as carpets, flooring, upholstery and clothes. Meanwhile polychlorinated biphenyl 153 remains widely detectable in the environment including in food, despite being banned globally.

Dr Sumner carried out identical experiments using samples of sperm from donor men and stud dogs living in the same region of the UK as part of her PhD. The results show that the chemicals, at concentrations relevant to environmental exposure, have the same damaging effect on sperm from both man and dog. She says, “In both cases and in both subjects, the effect was reduced sperm motility and increased fragmentation of DNA. We know that when human sperm motility is poor, DNA fragmentation is increased and that human male infertility is linked to increased levels of DNA damage in sperm.”

She continues, “We now believe this is the same in pet dogs because they live in the same domestic environment and are exposed to the same environmental contaminants. This means that dogs may be an effective model for future research into the effects of pollutants on declining fertility, particularly because external influences such as diet are more easily controlled than in humans.”

Dr Sumner’s research paper was published in Scientific Reports.  The expertise of lecturers at Hartpury University spans all areas of animal and agricultural sciences, and all staff are actively involved in research and knowledge exchange, either as researchers or practitioners, and the research is fully integrated within teaching

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Content added on 16th April 2019. 

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