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Metabolomics, metabolites and chirality

- a research area within the section MITO (Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology)

Transformation processes and degradation products of organic contaminants

In recent years there has been increasing focus on mass balance approaches, i.e. looking not only at the primary pollutant but also at the compounds it can be transformed into (transformation products and metabolites). That means the transformation processes of organic contaminants in the environment, biota and in technical processes are gaining importance in science but also in risk and technology assessment. This also includes the elucidation of specific structures of the transformation products as it is often not the parent substances but their degradation products which can cause unwanted effects in the environment. MITO performs research in transformation pathways, transformation products, and the conditions that determine the transformation pathways.

Transformation products of organic compounds can be more toxic than their parents. However, unlike their parent compounds transformation products often are not regulated, and data on fate and exposure are scarce. It is thus important for environmental assessment to know under which conditions transformation products are formed, how toxic they are and how persistent they are. MITO is thus systematically researching within this area.

Further, MITO is using dedicated metabolomics approaches such as pattern analysis to describe environmental processes such as aging of oil spills, efficiencies of water treatment etc.

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A wide range of man-made compounds as well as natural compounds are chiral, meaning for the respective molecules exist in two forms which are mirror images and therefore are not identical. As enzymes also are chiral, they can interact with chiral pollutants in a highly selective way. Thus for in-depth understanding of enzymatic processes like transformation and toxicity, it is essential to elaborate enantioselective processes. Thus, it is possible link transformation processes of organic contaminants to chirality, meaning to the respective enzyme  and thus in the end to specific organism in multispecies complex environments such as soil, sewage sludge or biofilms.

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