Scientists at the University of Nevada have been looking at the effect on sperm viability of tetracycline, an antibiotic widely used in livestock feed in the US to prevent the growth of infection-causing bacteria and increase production.
They tested their theory on three generations of pseudoscorpion, a tiny arachnid, and discovered that those administered tetracycline became less fertile, as did their male offspring. The speculation is that the same effect will be seen in humans, although that has yet to be tested.
Lead author Jeanne Zeh suggests that the drug causes epigenetic changes that are then passed down through the genes.
Tetracycline has been shown to lead to the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria – so-called “superbugs” – and also to leach into the general environment.