Researchers have discovered a compound that can reverse environmental mercury (a heavy metal) poisoning by converting it from a highly toxic, volatile and soluble organic form (as a pollutant) into a comparatively safe, inert and stable form that renders it harmless and insoluble. The finding is published in an international journal, Angewandte Chemie.

The new molecule was discovered by a team of researchers led by Dr Gouriprasanna Roy, assistant professor, department of chemistry, School of Natural Sciences, Shiv Nadar University (SNU).

The researchers claimed that the process to convert organic mercury pollutants from a toxic, soluble state to an insoluble, non-toxic state takes a few minutes to hours, depending upon the various forms of organic mercury pollutants.

“The new compound, GP1, may have immense potential as a preventive against complex neurodevelopmental disorders, called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), and can also fight environmental pollution. The compound can also be used to render highly toxic and hazardous mercury build-ups in the environment (rivers and ground water) completely benign and therefore safe for humans and animals,” said Dr Roy.
The research team also believes that there is a strong possibility of integrating this discovery with the medical industry, which will lead to the development of pharmaceutical drugs to treat methyl-mercury poisoning in the human body. Currently treatment for mercury-related poisoning involves removing it from the body with “chelation therapy”.

However, there is medical evidence to show that these drugs are not very effective in removing mercury from the brain. The new molecule has the potential to revolutionise the treatment for mercury poisoning.

“The team is simultaneously working on developing another molecule to reverse lead poisoning, another heavy metal contaminant affecting environment health,” added Dr Roy.

Researchers claimed that untreated industrial waste continues to affect India’s water sources, including aquifers, rivers and ground water. Those living in close proximity to regions with a high prevalence of mercury and other heavy metal pollution are at a high risk of developing a range of serious health complications that includes neurological disorders, skin problems and ailments of the liver, kidneys and cardio-vascular systems.

“Children, including those yet unborn, are the most at risk and affected. The discovery of this molecule is extremely noteworthy given the extent of environmental poisoning in India,” said Prof. Rupamanjari Ghosh, director, school of natural sciences and school of engineering, SNU.

Source: December 24, 2015, The Asian Age