PCB StructureFaculty scientists hope that a major new breakthrough could lead to more effective methods of detoxifying dangerous pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The team, based at the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology (MIB), were investigating how some natural organisms lower toxicity levels and shorten the lifespan of these notorious pollutants.

The main drive behind the research, which has been underway for fifteen years, is to find a way of combatting hazardous molecules which are released into the environment via pollutants and burning household waste. The concentration of these molecules has increased over time, meaning that their presence is more threatening than ever before. Despite some measures already being taken, such as the worldwide ban on PCBs in 2001, more still needs to be done. Professor David Leys explains his research:

“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. 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. 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 combatting some of the world’s biggest toxins can now be developed more quickly and efficiently.”

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