Mutagens and Teratogens
Can You Say Mutagen and Teratogen?
— Probably not without risk of mispronunciation,
which, though neither contagious nor necessarily a
permanent condition, can damage your reputation.
Some common mutagenic and teratogenic chemicals
A to Z include: Acrylonitrates, aniline, anesthetic
gases, arsenic compounds, benzene, benzo-
(a)pyrene, beryllium, boron (boric acid), cadmium,
carbon monoxide, chlordicone, chloro-form, chloroprene,
dichloromethane, epichloro-hydrin, ethylene
oxide, formaldehyde (formalin), hexachlorobenzene,
lead (organic/ in-organic), methyl ethyl ketone,
monomethylforma-mide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone,
selenium & compounds, thallium, toluene, vinyl
chloride and xylene.
[Philippine Daily Inquirer 2006]
MUTAGEN ( myüt. j n) : An agent (toxin,
radiation, virus,) capable of causing mutation (a
relatively permanent change in DNA, the hereditary
The amount of damage caused by a mutagen
depends on three factors: (1) chemical reactivity
between DNA and the mutagen, (2) the
concentration or dose of the mutagen, & (3) length
of exposure time of DNA to mutagen.1 Damage and
repair to DNA are constantly occurring; but when
the damage isn’t repaired the result can be cancer
or cell death. Also, genetic diseases such as cystic
fibrosis and sickle cell disease can be caused by a
single DNA mutation in one gene.2 And we just can’t
seem to choreograph the DNA-repair part of this
dance. This sounds incredibly ominous to me!
Where to find a mutagen: I hate to be the bearer
of such bad news, but mutagens are everywhere!
There are many hundreds of chemicals known to
be mutagens. For example, diesel exhaust contains
the extremely potent mutagen 3-nitrobenzanthrone.3
If you can get anywhere without sucking down some
3-nitrobenzanthrone, you’ve had a good day. I
would suggest a refreshing wilderness foray.
1 Microbial Genetics 2002
3 The Institute of Cancer Research
TERATOGEN (t rat. j n) An environmental
agent that causes harm (developmental
malformations) or death to the developing embryo.
Alcohol is a well-known teratogen. For an enormous
list of known and suspected teratogens [really!—go
look at it. Denial doesn’t make the list smaller or
make it go away, and it won’t make life any less
How do they work?: Teratogenic agents include
infectious agents (e.g. syphilis, rubella), physical
agents (e.g. ionizing agents, extremely high fever),
maternal health factors (e.g. diabetes, PKU),
environmental chemicals (e.g. PCB’s, pesticides,
solvents), and drugs (prescription, over-the-counter,
and “recreational”). So it appears that if you eat
organic food and live in a bubble, you’ll be
somewhat protected from teratogens!
The severity of the damage and the defect that
occurs are the result of the dose and the timing (in
terms of fetal development) of exposure to a
particular agent, and genetic susceptibility of
embryo and mother.4
But remember, teratogens are agents that cause
fetal injury when a pregnant woman is exposed to
them. You could say that if you are not a pregnant
woman, it’s not your problem. Whew! Does that ever
let a lot of us off the hook! Or does it?
Source by Cathy Verret