Scientists know a lot about how smoke from fires damages the lungs. A new study has shown its effect on the sperm of mice.
Forest fire smoke is a mixture of chemicals and tiny particles that are small enough to escape the body’s defenses and directly affect the lungs. But the damage doesn’t end there. Toxicologists and environmentalists have studied the effects of wildfire smoke on human health, including on semen.
A study published last year found that rats born to parents exposed to tree smoke often have behavioral and cognitive problems. This prompted scientists at Boise State University, in collaboration with researchers at Northeastern University, to find out what happens to the sperm of mice exposed to wildfire smoke.
Researchers simulated a wildfire in a laboratory by burning the needles of a Douglas fir. They then selected a smoke exposure similar to that of a 15-year-old firefighter working in a forested area. As a result of the experiment, scientists found that exposure to smoke in mice led to a change in the methylation of sperm DNA. DNA methylation is a biological mechanism that regulates gene expression.
The study authors found that the effects of wood smoke are similar to the effects of cannabis and cigarette smoke on semen. Scientists will continue to work to understand whether and how these changes in sperm affect offspring, as well as conduct a similar experiment with humans.