Study reveals malaria toxin may negatively affect male sperm

Study reveals malaria toxin may negatively affect male sperm. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Study reveals malaria toxin may negatively affect male sperm. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Published Feb 9, 2024


A new study has found that fathers exposed to Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) may produce sperm that could have dire health consequences for their future children.

The study conducted by researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP), McGill University and Universite Laval, concluded that toxins in the environment, in particular DDT, modified the sperm epigenome at sites potentially transmitted to the embryo at conception.

DDT, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is an insecticide used in agriculture.

Researchers explained that the epigenetic changes were found to occur at genes that were involved in fertility, embryo development, neurodevelopment and hormone regulation.

These alterations they believed were the cause of higher levels of birth defects and increased incidence of diseases, including neurodevelopmental and metabolic, for those in DDT exposed populations, especially in places such as Canada North.

The decade-long research examined the impact of DDT on the sperm epigenome of South African Vhavenda and Greenlandic Inuit men.

Even though the Stockholm Convention global treaty aimed to protect human health and the environment from the effects of persistent organic pollutants, the South African government however, has special permission to use DDT for malaria control.

Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Science at UP, said although most endemic provinces in South Africa currently used alternatives, the use of DDT for indoor residual spraying for malaria vector control had been very controversial for some time, and was still used in some areas when needed.

De Jager said a positive step was that the country was currently moving towards malaria elimination through alternative strategies.

“I always say that while we, and other countries, are still dependent on the use of DDT, we should look at safer alternatives and be innovative in our approach to get to total elimination.

“The reality is that people, especially young children and pregnant women, are still dying from malaria, therefore we cannot afford for people in malaria-endemic regions to refuse spraying their houses, as it will increase their risk of getting malaria,” De Jager said.