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New 'supermolecule' seeks and removes harmful pharmaceuticals from water

Published on 13/04/17 at 09:26am
Image Credit: mattbuck

Researchers at the University of Surrey have discovered a ‘supermolecule’ which they claim can seek harmful pharmaceuticals from water in an environmentally friendly way.

Pharmaceutical products find their way into bodies of water in numerous ways, being excreted as metabolites by those treated with them or dumped by manufacturers. This contamination can be harmful to the environment due to the contents of some products, not least of which includes hormones from contraceptive treatments, pesticides and herbicides from nearby plots of land, and other toxic ingredients.  

Calix[4], as the molecule is known, can be used to monitor and hunts down these damaging elements, opening the possibility for it to be integrated into specialist technology. Professor Danil de Namor, University of Surrey Emeritus Professor and leader of the research, explained: "Preliminary extraction data are encouraging as far as the use of this receptor for the selective removal of these drugs from water and the possibility of constructing a calix[4]-based sensing devices.

"From here, we can design receptors so that they can bind selectively with pollutants in the water so the pollutants can be effectively removed,” he continued. “This research will allow us to know exactly what is in the water, and from here it will be tested in industrial water supplies, so there will be cleaner water for everyone. The research also creates the possibility of using these materials for on-site monitoring of water, without having to transport samples to the laboratory."

Co-investigator Dr Brendan Howlin, who also serves at the University of Surrey, added: "This study allows us to visualise the specific receptor-drug interactions leading to the selective behaviour of the receptor. As well as the health benefits of this research, molecular simulation is a powerful technique that is applicable to a wide range of materials.”

Howlin also noted that research is already taking place at the Department of Chemical and Processing Engineering (CPI) and the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) to further expand upon the study.

Matt Fellows

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