A Comparison of the Teratogenicity of Methylmercury and Selenomethionine Injected Into Bird Eggs

  • Gary H. Heinz
  • David J. Hoffman
  • Jon D. Klimstra
  • Katherine R. Stebbins


Methylmercury chloride and seleno-l-methionine were injected separately or in combinations into the fertile eggs of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), chickens (Gallus gallus), and double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), and the incidence and types of teratogenic effects were recorded. For all three species, selenomethionine alone caused more deformities than did methylmercury alone. When mallard eggs were injected with the lowest dose of selenium (Se) alone (0.1 μg/g), 28 of 44 embryos and hatchlings were deformed, whereas when eggs were injected with the lowest dose of mercury (Hg) alone (0.2 μg/g), only 1 of 56 embryos or hatchlings was deformed. Mallard embryos seemed to be more sensitive to the teratogenic effects of Se than chicken embryos: 0 of 15 chicken embryos or hatchlings from eggs injected with 0.1 μg/g Se exhibited deformities. Sample sizes were small with double-crested cormorant eggs, but they also seemed to be less sensitive to the teratogenic effects of Se than mallard eggs. There were no obvious differences among species regarding Hg-induced deformities. Overall, few interactions were apparent between methylmercury and selenomethionine with respect to the types of deformities observed. However, the deformities spina bifida and craniorachischisis were observed only when Hg and Se were injected in combination. One paradoxical finding was that some doses of methylmercury seemed to counteract the negative effect selenomethionine had on hatching of eggs while at the same time enhancing the negative effect selenomethionine had on creating deformities. When either methylmercury or selenomethionine is injected into avian eggs, deformities start to occur at much lower concentrations than when the Hg or Se is deposited naturally in the egg by the mother.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA)  2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary H. Heinz
    • 1
  • David J. Hoffman
    • 1
  • Jon D. Klimstra
    • 1
  • Katherine R. Stebbins
    • 1
  1. 1.Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterUnited States Geological SurveyBeltsvilleUSA

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