Recent studies have shown that the herbicide called glyphosate may lead to teratogenic effect on the unborn fetus. This is currently used almost everywhere in the world. First of all, we will take a look at what people normally use glyphosate for. Also, we will explain what we mean by teratogenic effects. Then, we will explore 4 such effects that scientists have discovered, namely cyclopia, microcephaly, affected cranial neural crest, and craniofacial malformations.
What Is Glyphosate and What Do We Use It for?
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, which people normally use to exterminate weeds and as a crop desiccant. Crop desiccation is the process of drenching a crop in glyphosate a few days before harvest. This makes the crops easier to harvest, richer, and drier. Farmers can also harvest them earlier than scheduled. This chemical evens out ripening, simultaneously preparing the soil for the next crop. This substance has been on the market since 1974, most commonly under the name Roundup. People have recently been criticizing it for causing health problems in humans who eat products coming from crops sprayed with it. More commonly, scientist have been relating it to the spread of gluten intolerance.
What Are Teratogenic Effects?
Teratogenic effects are those anomalies or developmental defects that one can observe during the process of development of a fetus. Exposure to teratogenic agents is what causes them. Specialists divide these agents into several classes. Especially relevant are chemicals, drugs, radiation, or maternal infection.
Teratogenic Effects of Glyphosate-Based Herbicide
There is more and more proof of the damages that glyphosate can bring to the human health. A 2010 study has undertaken research to prove that glyphosate can cause malformations and developmental defects in mammals. Scientist conducted this reseach on embryos of Xenopus laevis and chickens. They incubated the embryos with 1/5000 dilutions of a commercial glyphosate-based herbicide. The results revealed that the embryos showed signs of craniofacial malformations, affected cranial neural crest, microcephaly, or even cyclopia. This brought concern over the level of exposure of human fetuses to glyphosate-based herbicide coming from crops. But let’s take a closer look at what each of these teratogenic effects are and what are their consequences.
The first of the teratogenic effects discovered by scientist are the craniofacial malformations. The craniofacial bones are the bones of the skull and the face, and there are many malformations at the level of these craniofacial bones that can appear. Some of them are: cleft lip, where the lip does not completely form, cleft palate, where the roof of the mouth is not entirely closed, craniosynostosis, which prevents normal growth of the brain and skull, hemifacial macrosomia, where one side of the face is underdeveloped, vascular malformation, which is a growth made up of blood vessels, or a deformational plagiocephaly, which entails an asymmetrical head shape. You can see these malformations at birth, and they can be mild, or more severe, in which case a doctor will have to perform surgery.
Affected Cranial Neural Crest
Neural crest cells are those cells that form the cell lineage and differentiate it. From these cells we form our bones, muscles, neurons, and so on. A process called neurulation forms the neural crest. Finally, the cranial neural crest forms the craniofacial mesenchyme. These cells get distributed in the cranial region, forming bones of the ears and jaw, the thymus, and so on. According to the 2010 study, one of the teratogenic effects of exposure to glyphosate is how it can affect the cranial neural crest, leading to deformities in the cranial cartilages.
The third of the teratogenic effects of glyphosate-based herbicide is microcephaly. Microcephaly is a medical condition that causes the fetus’ head to be smaller than normal. Normal development of the head is proof of a normal development of the brain as well, and if the head does not properly develop, this means that the brain is not properly developed as well. This condition can be milder, or more severe, where the baby’s head is much smaller, leading to other issues such as problems in development, seizures, difficulty swallowing, hearing and vision loss, and intellectual disability. Even more so, a child who experiences severe microcephaly also has his or her life threatened.
Cyclopia is an extremely rare and lethal malformation, where a baby is born with only one eye. The eye is usually placed where the root of the nose should be, which means that the nose is either completely missing, or it is located above the eye, in the form of a tubular appendage. This condition is caused by the failure of the embryonic prosencephalon to divide the eyes into two cavities. The cases are rare, but doctors associate the condition with incompatibility with life, and it seems to be one of the teratogenic effects of glyphosate.
Summing Everything Up
It is becoming more and more obvious that farmers using glyphosate-based herbicide on crops are damaging human health. From the extreme amounts that they use, that affect people who consume produce coming from those specific crops, to more severe issues such as the teratogenic effects discovered by the 2010 study, it is clear that farmers need a stricter regulation of the use of glyphosate-based herbicide. Unfortunately, the authorities that should be dealing with this issue are not giving it the importance they should, which threatens our future as consumers of glyphosate-infused produce.