Researchers from Northwestern University's School of Medicine have determined that the use of certain pesticides over a lifetime produces a shortening of chromosome telomeres.
The researchers tested 1,234 men as part of a study of 57,310 licensed pesticide contractors – from the Agricultural Health Study, orchestrated by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This particular study was conducted in partnership with the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The researchers had the subjects – adult males involved with pesticide application on farms or other environments – fill out extensive questionnaires on their pesticide use over their lifetimes. Some 48 pesticides were used and included in the study.
The researchers also collected from each subject buccal cells – taken from cheek swabs. Using what is called "Real-time polymerase chain reaction" testing, the researchers analyzed those cells for telomere length.
The researchers found that those males who applied pesticides in their work more during their lifetimes had significantly reduced telomere length. And the more pesticides used over their lifetimes, the shorter their telomeres were.
The researchers also matched up and quantified telomere length together with specific pesticides, and determined that certain pesticides produced significant telomere shortening. These included:
• alachlor (2-Chloro-N-(2,6-diethylphenyl)-N-(methoxymethyl)acetamide; herbicide, brand names Alanex, Bronco, Cannon, Crop Star, Intrro, Lariat, Lasso, Micro-Tech, and Partner)
• metolachlor ((RS)-2-Chloro-N-(2-ethyl-6-methyl-phenyl)-N-(1-methoxypropan-2-yl)acetamide; herbicide, brand names Bicep, Dual, Pennant, CGA-24705 and Pimagram)
• trifluralin (a,a,a-Trifluoro-2,6-dinitro-N,N-dipropyl-p- toluidine, brand names Treflan, Elancolan, Trefanocide)
• permethrin (3-Phenoxybenzyl (1RS)-cis,trans-3-(2,2-dichlorovinyl)-2,2-dimethylcyclopropanecarboxylate; insecticide, included in many formulations including Elimite, Nix, Acticin, and many others)
• toxaphene (2,2,5-endo,6-exo-8,9,10-Heptachloro-bornane; brand names include Chlorinated camphene, Octachlorocamphene, Camphochlor, Agricide Maggot Killer, Alltex, Allotox, Crestoxo, Compound 3956, Estonox, Fasco-Terpene, Geniphene, Hercules 3956, M5055, Melipax, Motox, Penphene, Phenacide, Phenatox, Strobane-T, Toxadust, Toxakil, Vertac 90%, Toxon 63, Attac, Anatox, Royal Brand Bean Tox 82, Cotton Tox MP82, Security Tox-Sol-6, Security Tox-MP cotton spray, Security Motox 63 cotton spray, Agro-Chem Brand Torbidan 28, and Dr Roger's toxene).
• DDT (dichloro-diphenylchloroethane)
For DDT, the researchers found that the more high-intensity days someone used DDT, the shorter their telomere length was.
Telomeres are repeated DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes. Research has found that telomeres help protect the chromosomes and provide for continuous replication of cells. Telomere lengths typically shorten as our number of potential cell replications dwindle – but also occur in DNA abnormalities such as cancer. A shortening of telomere length has also been linked with aging.
The researchers found that the seven pesticides/herbicides producing the most telomere shortening were also ones that have been linked with cancer. They stated: