Most of the commercial chemicals that enter the market each year in the United States do not have sufficient health and safety data. For pesticides, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a variety of methods to fill data gaps in order to assess chemical hazard, exposure, and risk. However, public concern has increased in recent years about the potential threat posed by these chemicals, along with the realization that traditional animal testing methods fall short of the standards of speed, economy, or ethics.
Now, researchers at George Washington University’s Columbia College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) have developed a new computational approach to quickly test pesticides for safety, efficacy and longevity in the environment. The new approach will help in the development of next-generation molecules to develop safer pesticides.
“In many ways, our tool mimics computer-aided drug discovery, in which vast libraries of chemical compounds are tested for their effectiveness and then tweaked to make them even more effective against specific therapeutic targets,” said Jakub Kostal, assistant professor of chemistry and chief medical officer. project researcher. “Similarly, we use our systematic approach to modify pesticides to make them less toxic and more degradable, while at the same time making sure they maintain good performance.
“This is a powerful tool for both industry and regulators to help develop new, safer alternatives to existing commercial agrochemicals and thus protect human life, the environment and industry profits.”
Using their new model, the researchers analyzed 700 pesticides from the EPA pesticide registry. The tests took into account the likely persistence or degradation of the pesticide in the environment over time, its safety, and how well it performs in killing, repelling, or controlling the target problem.
The model showed that only 52, or 7%, of the analyzed chemical compounds met the criteria for a safe chemical. The results of the analysis show that while most pesticides are probably unsafe, many can be made safer by changing their molecular structure in a way that reduces their toxicity without compromising effectiveness, the researchers said.
“Our analysis shows that there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to developing safer pesticides,” said Jessica Lever, CCAS chemistry graduate student and lead author on the paper. “Moreover, the computational approach we have developed to better select and develop safe pesticides can be used as a blueprint and applied to other industries that rely on commercial chemicals, such as cosmetics and cleaning products.”
In the future, the team hopes to complement its model with the development of pesticides from bio-based renewable chemical building blocks to achieve sustainable development goals in chemical design.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is published in the journal Science Advances.