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More than 6% of babies are born with a structural or functional defect, and many of these need special care and treatment to survive and thrive. Such defects can be inherited, arise through exposure to altered conditions or compounds in the womb, or result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Since the 1940s, animal experiments and epidemiological studies have identified many environmental factors that can cause particular birth defects. More recently, advances in genomics have allowed a simple genetic diagnosis in ∼ 30% of birth defects. However, the cause of the remainder is a mystery. I believe that a key limiter to successful identification of new environmental factors is that clinicians, epidemiologists and developmental biologists all approach the topic from different angles. I propose that better communication between such experts will further increase our understanding of the environmental causes of birth defects, and potentially reduce their global burden.

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animal models, birth defects, developmental biology, environmental risk factors, epidemiology, interdisciplinary research, teratology, Animals, Communication, Genomics