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Archive for the ‘Cancers from Chromosomal Damage’ Category

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Excerpt From Chapter 13: Through a Narrow Window 

Plants treated with benzene hexachloride (BHC) or lindane became monstrously deformed with tumorlike swellings on their roots. Their cells grew in size, being swollen with chromosomes which doubled in number. The doubling continued in future divisions until further cell division became mechanically impossible.

The herbicide 2,4-D has also produced tumor like swellings in treated plants. Chromosomes become short, thick, clumped together. Cell division is seriously retarded. The general effect is said to parallel closely that produced by X-rays.

These are but a few illustrations; many more could be cited. As yet there has been no comprehensive study aimed at testing the mutagenic effects of pesticides as such. The facts cited above are by-products of research in cell physiology or genetics. What is urgently needed is a direct attack on the problem.

Some scientists who are willing to concede the potent effect of environmental radiation on man nevertheless question whether mutagenic chemicals can, as a practical proposition, have the same effect. They cite the great penetrating power of radiation, but doubt that chemicals could reach germ cells. Once again we are hampered by the fact that there has been little direct investigation of the problem in man. However, the finding of large residues of DDT in the gonads and germ cells of birds and mammals is strong evidence that the chlorinated hydrocarbons, at least, not only become widely distributed throughout the body but come into contact with genetic materials. Professor David E. Davis at Pennsylvania State University has recently discovered that a potent chemical which prevents cells from dividing and has had limited use in cancer therapy can also be used to cause sterility in birds. Sublethal levels of the chemical halt cell division in the gonads. Professor Davis has had some success in field trials. Obviously, then, there is little basis for the hope or belief that the gonads of any organism are shielded from chemicals in the environment.

Recent medical findings in the field of chromosome abnormalities are of extreme interest and significance. In 1959 several British and French research teams found their independent studies pointing to a common conclusion—that some of humanity’s ills are caused by a disturbance of the normal chromosome number. In certain diseases and abnormalities studied by these investigators the number differed from the normal. To illustrate: it is now known that all mongoloids have one extra chromosome. Occasionally this is attached to another so that the chromosome number remains the normal 46. As a rule, however, the extra is a separate chromosome, making the number 47. In such individuals, the original cause of the defect must have occurred in the generation preceding its appearance.

A different mechanism seems to operate in a number of patients, both in America and Great Britain, who are suffering from a chronic form of leukemia. These have been found to have a consistent chromosome abnormality in some of the blood cells. The abnormality consists of the loss of part of a chromosome. In these patients the skin cells have a normal complement of chromosomes. This indicates that the chromosome defect did not occur in the germ cells that gave rise to these individuals, but represents damage to particular cells (in this case, the precursors of blood cells) that occurred during the life of the individual. The loss of part of a chromosome has perhaps deprived these cells of their “instructions” for normal behavior.

The list of defects linked to chromosome disturbances has grown with surprising speed since the opening of this territory, hitherto beyond the boundaries of medical research. One, known only as Klinefelter’s syndrome, involves a duplication of one of the sex chromosomes. The resulting individual is a male, but because he carries two of the X chromosomes (becoming XXY instead of XY, the normal male complement) he is somewhat abnormal. Excessive height and mental defects often accompany the sterility caused by the condition. In contrast, an individual who receives only one sex chromosome (becoming XO instead of either XX or XY) is actually female but lacks many of the secondary sexual characteristics. The condition is accompanied by various physical (and sometimes mental) defects, for of course the X chromosome carries genes for a variety of characteristics. This is known as Turner’s syndrome…

An immense amount of work on the subject of chromosome abnormalities is being done by workers in many countries. A group at the University of Wisconsin, headed by Dr. Klaus Patau, has been concentrating on a variety of congenital abnormalities, usually including mental retardation, that seem to result from the duplication of only part of a chromosome, as if somewhere in the formation of one of the germ cells a chromosome had broken and the pieces had not been properly redistributed. Such a mishap is likely to interfere with the normal development of the embryo.

According to present knowledge, the occurrence of an entire extra body chromosome is usually lethal, preventing survival of the embryo. Only three such conditions are known to be viable; one of them, of course, is mongolism. The presence of an extra attached fragment, on the other hand, although seriously damaging is not necessarily fatal, and according to the Wisconsin investigators this situation may well account for a substantial part of the so far unexplained cases in which a child is born with multiple defects, usually including mental retardation.

This is so new a field of study that as yet scientists have been more concerned with identifying the chromosome abnormalities associated with disease and defective development than with speculating about the causes. It would be foolish to assume that any single agent is responsible for damaging the chromosomes or causing their erratic behavior during cell division. But can we afford to ignore the fact that we are now filling the environment with chemicals that have the power to strike directly at the chromosomes, affecting them in the precise ways that would cause such conditions? Is this not too high a price to pay for a sproutless potato or a mosquitoes patio?

We can, if we wish, reduce this threat to our genetic heritage, a possession that has come down to us through some two billion years of evolution and selection of living protoplasm, a possession that is ours for the moment only, until we must pass it on to the generations to come. We are doing little now to preserve its integrity. Although chemical manufacturers are required by law to test their materials for toxicity, they are not required to make the tests that would reliably demonstrate genetic effect, and they do not do so.

(That’s because manufacturers were already well aware of the biological impacts of the technologies they were expanding. Make certain to read my excerpts from the book, “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna,” by Edith Sheffer)

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