Scientists Discover Microplastics Within Donated Testes and Semen

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Scientists have for the first time detected microplastic particles within donated human testes and semen, averaging 12 particles/gram tissue and 0.23 particles/ml semen. Findings provide unprecedented evidence of microplastics permeating and accumulating within the male reproductive system.

In a pioneering study, scientists analyzed donated testicular tissue and semen samples from adult males for microplastic content and characteristics.[1] Employing high resolution spectroscopy and pyrolysis methods tailored for precision plastic detection, tests revealed microplastics averaging 11.6 particles/g tissue within testes and 0.23 particles/ml in expressed semen.[1]

Researchers discovered microplastics ranging from 20 - 287 μm composed of polyethylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride predominating within specimens.[1] Both fragmented and fibrous particles were noted.

These highly concerning findings constitute the first evidence of microplastics accumulating within the cellular and fluid microenvironments where the most fundamental human biological processes essential for the continued reproduction of our species - sperm production - initiate. As global plastic production continues soaring, investigations into potential generational health effects now take on urgent priority.

We recently reported on a new study indicating that both the ubiquity and toxicity of exposure to microplastic pollution is far worse than previously imagined. Using advanced microscopy, researchers detect over 240,000 plastic particles per liter in bottled water - mostly hazardous nanoplastics below 1 micron. The scientists achieved unprecedented detection sensitivity to spot individual plastic particles down to 60-100nm - smaller than the wavelength of light. Because traditional toxicological risk assessments presume that the smaller the total mass of the "toxicant" ('the dose makes the poison') the smaller the adverse effect, it is now becoming clear that lower molecular weight nanoparticles may actually have increased toxicity as they can act as endocrine disruptors mimicking hormones at smaller doses, and some particles are small enough to evade detection from the immune system and/or directly enter through the membrane of cells adversely affecting their structure and function and even altering gene expression in adverse ways.

All in all, this new research reveals there may be far higher human exposure concerns than previously presumed, warranting research on toxicity and regulation. 

Thus far, there is little available research establishing effective ways to remove microplastics from the body, but preliminary research indicates that sweating may help to eliminate some accumulated petrochemicals, and this could include micro- and nanoplastics.  Learn more about detoxification via sweating here.


1. Zhao Q et al. Sci Total Environ. 2023.

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