UF ABE researchers develop new method for testing low-concentrations of chemicals

Researchers from the UF Agricultural and Biological Engineering department have discovered a better way to assess the impacts of mixtures of man-made chemicals on water bodies and their ecosystems.

The study’s lead authors, Rafael Muñoz-Carpena and Ismael Rodea-Palomares, along with colleagues in Spain, found a way to detect how low doses of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known as PPCPs, affect aquatic life.

Low concentrations of these chemicals are widely released into freshwater bodies all over the world. Although they are not toxic individually, they collect and dilute over long periods of time in waters downstream from wastewater plans and sewage release points. These combinations of chemicals eventually make their way in low concentrations into other freshwater subsidiaries, including drinking water and soil.

While previous studies have examined PPCPs individually in high concentrations, Muñoz-Carpena and his team wanted to see how these mixtures of chemicals in low-concentrations realistically impact aquatic ecosystems.

Scientists introduced low-concentrations mixtures of common PPCPs, including caffeine, antibiotics, analgesics, psychiatric drugs, into a lab-created freshwater environment. Using blue algae that had been engineered to produce light, the team examined how different combinations of chemicals affected the algae’s metabolism, represented by its ability to emit light.

Muñoz-Carpena and his team found that a number of the PPCPs in the mixtures, particularly antibiotics and other common medicines, affected the algae’s growth, assimilation of nutrients, photosynthesis and reproduction.

This study not only shows the harmful effects of low-doses of PPCPs in complex mixtures, but also provides other scientists with an accurate method of testing how emerging chemicals impact aquatic life, something the field was lacking.

Muñoz-Carpena said the success of this new method has created many opportunities for other biological scientists.

The work was published in the prestigious Science Advances (AAAS) journal. More information on this study can be found here: https://news.ifas.ufl.edu/2016/09/new-ufifas-method-detects-low-dose-impacts-of-man-made-chemicals-in-water/

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