Detect And Detox At The Same Time

Scientists in Thailand have found a way to identify and convert harmful chemicals into benign products in a single reaction.

AsianScientist (Sep. 2, 2019) – In a study published in Angewandte Chemie, a research group in Thailand has developed a method involving two natural enzymatic reactions to detect and detoxify harmful chemicals used in industrial and agricultural processes.

Oxygenated benzene or phenol molecules are part of the chemical structure of many organic substances, from tar to pharmaceuticals, dyes and herbicides. Although many of these chemicals are not harmful in their functional form, they may degrade into cancerous and stable nitrophenols and halogenated phenols over time, accumulating in the workplace or in fields.

Phenolic compounds are usually detected with techniques such as mass spectrometry, which requires bulky and specialised machinery. Now, researchers led by Professor Pimchai Chaiyen at the Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology, Thailand, have developed a more practical approach—they combined an established biodetoxification method with chemical and biochemical conversion approaches to detect and remove contaminants in a single step.

Their technique was inspired by nature; bacteria use specialized enzymes called dehalogenases or mono-oxygenases to convert phenols into oxidized compounds called benzoquinones, which can be further metabolized into harmless substances. Chaiyen and colleagues went further and coupled this enzymatic process with a method to convert the benzoquinone product into luciferin.

“The developed chemoenzymatic cascade offers additional value: it provides biodetection technology for nitrophenols and halogenated phenols,” said the authors.

To achieve conversion of benzoquinone into luciferin, the team added the natural compound cysteine to the reaction mixture. They then included a third step in the reaction sequence and detected the luciferin product through the glowing reaction caused by an enzyme called luciferase, which is found in fireflies.

Simultaneous detoxification and luciferin production may offer additional benefits, said the researchers. For example, it could be used for analysis and detoxification of the workplace, or for synthesis of luciferin from waste chemicals.

The article can be found at: Watthaisong et al. (2019) A Chemo‐Enzymatic Cascade for the Smart Detection of Nitro‐ and Halogenated Phenols.


Source: Wiley; Photo: Shutterstock.
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