Vitamin B12 could help detoxify pollutants

Written by PTI | London | Updated: Oct 20 2014, 21:51pm hrs
PollutantsIn a major breakthrough that could lead to more effective methods for detoxifying pollutants (Reuters)
In a major breakthrough that could lead to more effective methods for detoxifying pollutants, scientists have decoded how certain organisms remove these dangerous particles using vitamin B12.

Scientists investigated how some natural organisms manage to lower the level of toxicity and shorten the life span of several notorious pollutants.

"We already know that some of the most toxic pollutants contain halogen atoms and that most biological systems simply don't know how to deal with these molecules," said Professor David Leys from The University of Manchester.

"However, there are some organisms that can remove these halogen atoms using vitamin B12. Our research has identified that they use vitamin B12 in a very different way to how we currently understand it," said Leys.

"Detailing how this novel process of detoxification works means that we are now in a position to look at replicating it. We hope that ultimately new ways of combating some of the world's biggest toxins can now be developed more quickly and efficiently," he added.

The main difficulty has been in growing enough of the natural organisms to be able to study how they detoxify the pollutants, said researchers, who described the finding as a major breakthrough.

The team at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) was finally able to obtain key proteins through genetic modification of other, faster growing organisms. They then used X-ray crystallography to study in 3D how halogen removal is achieved.

The main drive behind this research has been to look at ways of combating the dozens of very harmful molecules that have been released into the environment. Many have been directly expelled by pollutants or from burning household waste, researchers said.

As the concentration of these molecules has increased over time their presence poses more of a threat to the environment and humanity.

"As well as combating the toxicity and longevity of pollutants we're also confident that our findings can help to develop a better method for screening environmental or food samples," said Leys.

The research was published in the journal Nature.