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The murex is facing extinction

The murex, one of Sicily's best-loved shell-fish, is facing extinction because of widespread sex changes caused by compounds in paints protecting the hulls of boats, environmentalists warn.

The alarm was launched by Italy's premier marine research institute, the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, after it carried out tests in Sicilian coastal waters and compared them with uncontaminated waters farther out.

The results show that the females of three species of murex have almost completely changed sex around the coasts while the gender pattern remains intact on the unsullied seabeds.

The exact mechanism behind the transexual molluscs is still being studied. A handful of Italian researchers are at the cutting edge. One of them, Antonio Terlizzi of Lecce University, explained that TBT boosts the production of testosterone in the female murexes, making them sterile and eventually turning them into males.

So far the possible health effects on people who eat the transgender snails have not been investigated.

by S. C.
24 february 2009, World News > Italy

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