Sexual Liberation in Fish Is Nothing to Celebrate

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BPA exposure breaks down boundaries, causes interspecies experimentation in fish

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Despite ongoing health concerns about the endocrine-disrupting chemical known as BPA -- that it may promote breast cancer growth, for instance, harm sperm quality, or cause erectile dysfunction -- the Food and Drug Administration has yet to come down hard on the use of the substance in consumer products. It's still regularly found in our water bottles, soda cans, and even receipts.

But while we might look past threats to our own health, a new study published yesterday in the journal Evolutionary Applications linking BPA to inter-species mating in fish may be troubling enough to make the issue worth revisiting.

After all, nothing fires up the masses like some good, old-fashioned moral outrage.

The study, which looked at the mating behavior between blacktail shiners and red shiners that spent two weeks in BPA-contaminated tanks, found that the substance messed with the fishes' hormones enough to cause changes in both appearance and behavior, culminating in an all-out cross-species lovefest.

While one could be open-minded about the possibilities deriving from such behavior -- hybrid superfish? A new dinner item? -- one concern is that the spread of BPA into rivers could promote the proliferation of invasive species. The red shiner has already been identified as a threat to other species in its natural habitat; continued procreation through interspecies mating would only intensify the problem. Might other species take their cue from the shiners and get funny ideas? Could the shiners tire of their aquatic options and start trolling the river banks for land species? That's to say nothing about what inner urges BPA exposure might cause in humans...

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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