Plastics are the future

But in science research that might be a problem.

A study has recently been published in the journal Science that establishes that the leeching from plastics that we've long known about from activities like microwaving can also affect liquids at room temperature.

Since much of the biological research that occurs uses disposable plastics, this is a concern. Making the concern worse, a lot of the molecules that leech out of plastics have similar chemical structures to hormones in mammals. Thus, when we use plastic tubes and trays for our research we can be having the cells or tissue that we're working with affected by these quasi-hormonal substances.

Andy Holt, the lead researcher of the study and professor of pharmacology at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, has shown that using plastic lab equipment can skew or ruin the results of medical experiments.

By using mass spectrometry to analyze the solutions at the molecular level, Holt and his colleagues identified the presence of two families of compounds from the plastic that had contaminated their experiments and produced biological effects, quaternary ammonium biocides-anti-bacterial agents that manufacturers add to plastics and oleamide.

"Because oleamide is a molecule found in the human body that contributes to normal physiological functioning, ingesting molecules that are structurally similar to oleamide may either over-stimulate or-more likely-inhibit the body processes regulated by oleamide," Holt said.

Holt and his colleagues tested pipette tips, Eppendorf tubes and Multiwell plates from several manufacturers. The contaminants leached from all of these items in the majority of cases. But the specific contaminants, and the degree to which they leached out, was different in different products.

In that first picture you can see a lab tech I work with using a polypro eppendorf tube as well as a plastic pipette tip. Are they contaminating our work? That's an interesting question--and a potentially very scary one. Anybody that works with tissue culture research knows how variable the results can be. Perhaps this is why it's so difficult to get consistant results.

The second picture is of glass tubes that we use for certain types of experiments. They're a lot more difficult to use and while these are disposable, most glassware isn't. And needs to be washed and washed in a way that nothing sticks to the glass. BTW, if you didn't know it, glass has a surface that lots of things stick to---which is why we don't like to use it in research.

Much as I hate the idea of going back to working with glass and borosilicate, it might be necessary if the results from the Holt study published in Science are widely confirmed. There's plenty of research work that I do that won't be affected by oleamide contamination. However all of my tissue culture and mice work will likely be affected. This is very interesting since a lot of research could possibly be invalidated due to this type of contamination...


kenju said…
It is too bad we didn't know about this 20 years ago.
PI said…
In the fifties my first husband took me round a plastics factory - he was a scientist with British Iron and Steel Research Dept,and it was all very new and exciting and was the flavour of the month but now it seems it is a baddie as far as pollution goes - and that's the extent of my scientific knowledge:)
Impressed? I thought not. Michelle sends he best.
GA Girl said…
I saw that publication and though we go again...remember endotoxin?

It seems if you look for something toxic you find it.

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