New study examines how pollutants cause genetic changes that lead to infertility in multiple generations

Tracie Baker in lab
In a new study, Dr. Tracie Baker and her team are exploring biomarkers and pathways of endocrine disrupting chemicals in a zebrafish model. Photos by Jesse S. Jones

A single exposure to an environmental contaminant during development may be all it takes to affect fertility in adulthood and later generations. With the support of a five-year $2 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, University of Florida researchers hope to shed light on the mechanisms of environmentally-induced infertility.

“Rates of infertility are increasing at alarming rates worldwide. Using a zebrafish model, our previous research has shown that endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are found in many everyday products and ubiquitously in the environment, produce changes in the testicular cell genome and epigenome,” said lead investigator Tracie Baker, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of environmental and global health at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and a member of the UF Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology and the Emerging Pathogens and Water institutes.

Baker conducts research with zebrafish to uncover environmental influences that lead to disease in humans. More than 80% of genes associated with disease in humans are found in these fish. Plus, research costs are dramatically less and experimental results sometimes happen within days instead of years.

In the new study, Baker and her team are exploring biomarkers and pathways of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

“I am excited to better understand these processes so that strategies to prevent and treat reproductive diseases can be developed,” she said.

Lab members in Tracie Baker lab
Members of the Baker lab. Front row: Dr. Danielle Meyer, postdoctoral fellow, and Dr. Chia-Chen Wu, postdoctoral fellow. Back row: Dr. Tracie Baker; Mallory Llewellyn, graduate student; and Isabela Silva, lab manager.