Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a worm that lives in soil and feeds on bacteria. This microscopic roundworm has been a staple of research studies for decades because almost 40% of the human genome is identical to that of C. elegans. If the physiology of C. elegans carries over into humans, many humans who use the ubiquitous herbicide brand created by the Monsanto Corp—Roundup—may be in trouble.
That’s because scientists from Florida Atlantic University have been studying the main active ingredient in Roundup—glyphosate—for its potential effects on brain function. The researchers’ determined that exposure to glyphosate caused the worms to experience seizures for twice as long as worms that weren’t exposed to the herbicide.
The researchers induced seizures in the worms and measured how long it took the invertebrates to recuperate from the neurological imbalance. To adjust for the feather-light weight of the worms, the concentration of Roundup in the study was 1,000 times lower than that approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in humans.
To lessen the severity of the seizures in the worms, the researchers administered sodium valproate, an anti-seizure remedy. Reporting by Phys.org says, “The fact that a drug known to alleviate seizures in humans also alleviated the seizure-like behavior in the C. elegans implies that the mechanism being disrupted by the Roundup is one humans share with the worms.”
The consequences of the study could imply that Roundup has a profound influence on the ecology where it’s applied. “The broader implications of our work raise serious concern over the ecological impact that trace concentrations of glyphosate pose to invertebrate organisms in the soil,” said lead researcher, Akshay Naraine. “Taken in a translational light, these findings spur further exploration into how glyphosate and Roundup affect seizure and behavioral symptomology in mammals,” Naraine added.
Roundup has been the focus of at least 125,00 lawsuits. Plaintiffs who have filed claims allege that they developed a rare type of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of glyphosate exposure. Three Roundup cases have gone to trial, each of which have been multi-million-dollar jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs.
In June 2018, the pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG completed its acquisition of Monsanto for $63 billion. One month later, the first federal Roundup lawsuit was underway. The trial lasted four weeks and resulted in a jury verdict of $289 million for a former Bay Area groundskeeper named Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. Jorehnson’s verdict has been reduced twice and now stands at roughly $20.5 million.
Bayer has settled the bulk of the 125,000 lawsuits for over $10 billion. Another $2 billion has been set aside to settle future lawsuits. A judge will either accept or reject Bayer’s proposal to settle future lawsuits next month. Under Bayer’s proposal, those that join the class action will refrain from filing claims for four years, and a science panel will determine whether or not Roundup causes cancer; the panel’s findings will be non-binding.
Hundreds of Roundup plaintiff attorneys are opposed to Bayer’s proposed settlement plan for several reasons. For starters, the maximum compensation plaintiffs will receive is expected to be $200,000. Medical expenses for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma costs over $14,000 per month, according to a 2006 study.
The research conducted by FAU researchers will be presented, virtually, because of the coronavirus pandemic, at the American Physiological Society’s (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2021, reports Phys.org.