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Aquat Toxicol. 2001 Nov 1;55(1-2):49-60.

Vitellogenin induction in painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, as a biomarker of exposure to environmental levels of estradiol.

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Department of Environmental Toxicology, Clemson University, Box 709, Pendleton, SC 29670, USA.


Ponds within cattle farms often support turtle and fish populations and are impacted by manure runoff. Cattle excrete metabolized (glucuronide-conjugated) hormones in feces and urine into these ponds, and bacteria cleave the glucuronide metabolites to active steroids, which can be stable for several weeks in wastewater. The objectives of this study were to (1) assess levels of xenoestrogens found in ponds near livestock pastures; and (2) assess whether these levels of xenoestrogens induce vitellogenin (VTG) in painted turtles in the laboratory and field. We collected water twice, 6 weeks apart, and placed turtle traps weekly into two ponds, which receive runoff from beef cattle pastures, and into one pond with no cattle farm effluents. Water E(2) levels were analyzed using C(18) solid phase extraction disks and detected in a radioimmunoassay (RIA). Plasma was collected from painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) captured from these ponds and VTG levels were measured via enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Nine additional turtles were collected from a pond at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens, which receives no farm runoff, and were exposed in the laboratory to nominal concentrations of 0.15, 1.5, and 15 ng/l estradiol (static renewal) over a 28-day period, followed by 14 days in clean water. Plasma samples were taken weekly for VTG measurement via ELISA. Levels of free estradiol in the water column of farm ponds range from 0.05 to 1.80 ng/l, as measured by RIA, and up to 7.4 ng/l as measured by ER-beta binding affinity. This is similar to what has been reported in streams receiving sewage treatment works (STW) effluents. In the laboratory, plasma VTG in male painted turtles could not be induced even at the high E(2) dose (9.45 ng/l) after 28 days. In the field, VTG levels were induced only in females when compared with animals from the SC Botanical Gardens. Adult male turtles need to be primed with high doses of E(2) prior to being able to respond to exogenous E(2). Given that males would not typically be sensitized in the wild, environmentally relevant levels of E(2) may not be sufficient to affect them. However, higher VTG levels in females could potentially change their reproductive fitness by altering egg size or by shifting energy allocations away from other survival needs. Long-term studies are needed to study potential impacts of VTG induction on female turtle reproductive success.

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