Complete sex reversal of fish is accomplished routinely in aquaculture practices by exposing fish to exogenous sex steroids during gonadal differentiation. A variety of environmental chemicals are also active at sex steroid receptors and theoretically possess the potential to alter normal sexual differentiation in fish. However, in controlled environmental chemical exposures to date, only partial alterations of fish sexual phenotype have been observed. Here we report complete, permanent, and functional male-to-female sex reversal in the Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes, d-rR strain) after a onetime embryonic exposure to the xenoestrogen o, p'-DDT. d-rR strain medaka are strict gonochorists that possesses both sex-linked pigmentation, which distinguishes genotypic sex, and sexually dimorphic external secondary sexual characteristics, which distinguish phenotypic sex. We directly microinjected the xenoestrogen o, p'-DDT into the egg yolks of medaka at fertilization to parallel the maternal transfer of lipophilic contaminants to the embryo. At 10 weeks of age, microinjected medaka were examined for mortality and sex reversal. A calculated embryonic dose of 511 +/- 22 ng/egg o, p'-DDT (mean +/- standard error) resulted in 50% mortality. An embryonic exposure of 227 +/- 22 ng/egg o, p'-DDT resulted in 86% (6 of 7) sex reversal of genetic males to a female phenotype (XY females). XY females were distinguished by sex-linked male pigmentation accompanying female secondary sexual characteristics. Histologic examination of the gonads confirmed active ovaries in 100% of the XY females. In 10-day breeding trials in which XY females were paired with normal XY males, 50% of the XY females produced fertilized embryos; this represents a comparable breeding success rate to normal XX females. Fertilized eggs produced from XY females hatched to viable larvae. These results clearly indicate that a weakly estrogenic pesticide, o, p'-DDT, when presented during the critical period of gonadal development, can profoundly alter sexual differentiation.