Scientists across the globe are investigating the effects of toxic exposure on human cells. This study poses the following research questions: How do scientists define and measure environmental exposure? How do scientists designate, test and collect evidence for laying claims about the effects of environmental toxins on bodies and biologies? At exactly what point do scientists feel they can identify when and how 'external' chemicals and 'internal' biologies affect each other? How are scientists both confronted with and using environmental degradation as the means through which to advance cutting-edge basic laboratory research in an internationalized research climate? The researcher proposes to conduct 18 months of fieldwork in order to investigate the social dimensions of research scientists' methods, practices, research questions, and concerns. Fieldwork will be conducted in laboratories, department and university meetings, and research publication and presentation preparation meetings.

The proposed research will have broad impact by illuminating how scientists define and study environmental exposures. It contributes to science and technology studies, anthropology of science, and environmental science. By studying the way cells interact with environment toxins, primarily chemical pesticides, these scientists attempt to bring evidence to bare on many countries' toughest social dilemma - how to improve citizens' quality of life without quickly destroying the quality of the environment.

Project Report

This project explored China’s recent history of economic and industrial growth, as well as accompanying environmental devastation, through male infertility science. Primarily based in Nanjing, China, the study investigated how reproductive health scientists and social scientists think about the environment and its effects on human and animal bodies. It especially focused on how scientists study the ways toxic "environments" enter the male body in the form of pesticides, plastics and pollutants and leave the body in the form of low-quality sperm. Moreover, the project explored how trends in epigenetic science might newly reiterate reproductive expectations for both males and females by emphasizing the way toxins can transform genetic information that is passed through generations. Besides the practicalities of laboratory research, this project also investigated the history of the development of the biological sciences in Nanjing, as well as the changing role scientific research plays in China's institutional landscape. Relationships between scientists in the U.S. and China were both studied and developed. The structure of graduate and post-graduate education in China will be discussed in future publications, as well as the means through which scientific research is executed in the context of the nation's rapidly expanding contributions to studies of epigentics, metabolism and birth defects. Relationships built during this research will continue to grow in future meetings, research projects, and collaborations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Linda Layne
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University of California Berkeley
United States
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