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A smart chemoenzymatic method detects and removes hazardous phenols

August 08, 2019 / Angewandte Chemie

Many industrial and agriculture processes use chemicals that can be harmful for workers and the ecosystems where they accumulate. Researchers from Thailand have now developed a bioinspired method to detect and detoxify these chemicals in only one step. As they report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, a combination of two natural enzymatic reactions convert harmful chloro- and nitrophenols into the substance that causes the characteristic glowing of fireflies: luciferin. Oxygenated benzene or phenol molecules are part of the chemical structure of many organic substances, from lignin and tar, to pharmaceuticals, dyes, and herbicides. Phenol-derived compounds are added to plastics as plasticizers. Although many of these chemicals are not harmful as such, pesticides, herbicides, or flame retardants may degrade to cancerous and stable nitrophenols and halogenated phenols that accumulate in the workplace or in fields.