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Pure Appl. Chem., 2003, Vol. 75, No. 11-12, pp. 2355-2360

Endocrine disruption in wildlife: The future?

J. P. Sumpter

Department of Biological Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK

Abstract: Probably the only thing that can be said with certainty about the future of this field of ecotoxicology is that predicting it is foolish; the chances of being right are very slim. Instead, it seems to me likely that unexpected discoveries will probably have more influence on the field of endocrine disruption than the outcomes of all the planned experiments. It is certainly true that chance discoveries, such as masculinized fish in rivers receiving paper-mill effluent, imposex in molluscs due to exposure to tributyltin and feminized fish in rivers receiving effluent from sewage-treatment works, have been pivotal in the development of the field of endocrine disruption in wildlife. I consider that further such discoveries are likely, but I do not know which species will be affected, what effects will be found, what chemical(s) will be the cause, or what endocrine mechanism(s) will underlie the effects. The recent realization that many pharmaceuticals are present in the aquatic environment only underscores the range of effects that could, in theory at least, occur in exposed wildlife. What is somewhat easier to predict is the research that will be conducted in the immediate future, which will build upon what is known already. For example, it is clear that wildlife is rarely, if ever, exposed to single chemicals, but instead is exposed to highly complex, ill-defined mixtures of chemicals, including many that are endocrine active in various ways. We need to understand much better how chemicals interact, and what overall effects will occur upon exposure to such mixtures. We also need to move from assessing effects at the individual organism level, to understanding the consequences of these effects at the population level. Then, we need to determine the significance of any population-level effects due to endocrine disruption in comparison with the impact of many other significant stressors (e.g., over-exploitation, habitat loss, climate change) that also negatively impact wildlife. Such research will be difficult, and time-consuming, and will probably produce many surprises. All I can be fairly certain about is that the next few years are likely to be as interesting and exciting as the last few have been.