The Hidden Risks of Pesticides

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pesticide health risks

Story at-a-glance –

  • Exposure to low doses of atrazine leads to changes in the gut microbiota of wasps, increasing their resistance to pesticides
  • Researchers exposed wasps to atrazine at concentrations of 300 parts per billion, an amount meant to simulate the exposure level that would occur among pollinators visiting a field that was recently sprayed
  • Changes in gut microbiota occurred, which increased the insects’ tolerance to pesticides, including not only the herbicide atrazine but also glyphosate — a chemical to which the wasps had not been exposed
  • The microbial changes in the wasps’ guts persisted across successive generations, meaning that the wasps’ offspring were affected even though they weren’t exposed to atrazine
  • Host-microbiome interaction is not part of standard biorisk assessments for pesticides

Chemical pesticides have become a mainstay of modern agriculture, despite red flags that they’re slowly destroying ecosystems. (Technically, pesticides are designed to kill insects, while herbicides are used to kill weeds or substances like bacteria or fungi, but when discussing them, the U.S. EPA lumps them all together as “pesticides.”)

Part of what makes assessing the health and environmental risks of pesticides so difficult is that many of the risks remain unknown, and those that are known can be difficult to quantify, no matter what they’re called.

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