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Sci Total Environ. 1996 Nov 18;191(1-2):23-58.

Genetic effects of contaminant exposure--towards an assessment of impacts on animal populations.

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Department of Zoology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


This review aims both to identify the potential risks to animal populations as a consequence of exposure to genotoxins and to identify the techniques most useful in assessing these risks. These evaluations are complicated by the fact that contaminant exposure acts both to restructure naturally occurring genetic diversity and, when contaminants have mutagenic activity, to enhance the rate of introduction of new variation. There is now evidence that contaminant exposure often leads to change in the genetic attributes of natural populations. Short-lived organisms often develop resistance to contaminants, with only modest impacts on diversity in the balance of the genome, although massive mortality occurs during the gene replacement. Resistance is, however, less likely to evolve in species with small population size, such as many wildlife species. Such species will experience population declines or extinction as the impact of contaminants on physiological systems is not counteracted by gene replacements. Even when adaptation to exposure occurs, populations may suffer diminished fitness as a consequence of the mutagenic effects of contaminants. The expression of these effects range from an increase in the incidence of developmental abnormalities to shifts in chromosomal and gene structure. The assessment of this broad range of impacts can only be accomplished with a spectrum of analytical approaches. However, recent advances in molecular and developmental genetics are now making possible the detailed assessment of these mutagenic impacts in natural populations.

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