Induction of mortality and malformation in Xenopus laevis embryos by water sources associated with field frog deformities

James G. Burkhart, Judy C. Helgen, Douglas J. Fort, Kathryn Gallagher, Dorothy Bowers, Timothy L. Propst, Mark Gernes, Joe Magner, Michael D. Shelby, George Lucier

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79 Scopus citations


Water samples from several ponds in Minnesota were evaluated for their capacity to induce malformations in embryos of Xenopus laevis. The FETAX assay was used to assess the occurrence of malformations following a 96-hr period of exposure to water samples. These studies were conducted following reports of high incidences of malformation in natural populations of frogs in Minnesota wetlands. The purpose of these studies was to determine if a biologically active agent(s) was present in the waters and could be detected using the FETAX assay. Water samples from ponds with high incidences of frog malformations (affected sites), along with water samples from ponds with unaffected frog populations (reference sites), were studied. Initial experiments clearly showed that water from affected sites induced mortality and malformation in Xenopus embryos, while water from reference sites had little or no effect. Induction of malformation was dose dependent and highly reproducible, both with stored samples and with samples taken at different times throughout the summer. The biological activity of the samples was reduced or eliminated when samples were passed through activated carbon. Limited evidence from these samples indicates that the causal factor(s) is not an infectious organism nor are ion concentrations or metals responsible for the effects observed. Results do indicate that the water matrix has a significant effect on the severity of toxicity. Based on the FETAX results and the occurrence of frog malformations observed in the field, these studies suggest that water in the affected sites contains one or more unknown agents that induce developmental abnormalities in Xenopus. These same factors may contribute to the increased incidence of malformation in native species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-848
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1998


  • Amphibian malformations
  • Environmental sentinels
  • Teratogenesis


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