WSU Study Finds Lasting Effects of Mercury Exposure in Fish

May 11, 2017

A new study by WSU researchers has found that toxic effects of exposure to mercury in fish can be passed on to later generations.

The WSU School of Biological Sciences study looked at zebrafish that were exposed to very low levels of methylmercury, which occurs in nature when mercury is metabolized by small organisms.

It found that the toxic effects of exposure were passed on not only to their offspring, but also the third generation of zebrafish.

The toxic effects were neurological and included abnormal locomotion, impaired vision, and hyperactivity.

While this study looked at fish, future studies will look at mammals to determine if the same toxic effects can be passed on to humans who have never been exposed to mercury. WSU Researcher Michael Skinner said, “What this study showed, if you were to reproduce, and you could pass this on to your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren, even though they never see the mercury, they are carrying this abnormality with them and it’s in the form of what is called epigenetics, this changing of chemical modification the DNA that is in the sperm and egg, and can be passed to later generations.”

Skinner says mercury is present as a toxin in our environment through several sources, like burning coal , and can make its way to humans through eating fish, like tuna, that have that been exposed to the heavy metal.