Xenobiotic

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Overview

A xenobiotic is a chemical which is found in an organism but which is not normally produced or expected to be present in it. It can also cover substances which are present in much higher concentrations than are usual. Specifically, drugs such as antibiotics are xenobiotics in humans because the human body does not produce them itself nor would they be expected to be present as part of a normal diet. However, the term is also used in the context of pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls and their effect on the biota. Natural compounds can also become xenobiotics if they are taken up by another organism (e.g., uptake of natural human hormones by fish found downstream of sewage treatment plant outfalls).

Xenobiotic metabolism

The body removes xenobiotics by xenobiotic metabolism. This consists of the deactivation and the secretion of xenobiotics, and happens mostly in the liver. Secretion routes are urine, feces, breath, and sweat. Hepatic enzymes are responsible for the metabolism of xenobiotics by first activating them (oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis and/or hydration of the xenobiotic), and then conjugating the active secondary metabolite with glucuronic or sulphuric acid, or glutathione, followed by excretion in bile or urine. An example of a group of enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism is hepatic microsomal cytochrome P450. These enzymes that metabolize xenobiotics are very important for the pharmaceutical industry, because they are responsible for the breakdown of medications.

Xenobiotics in the environment

Xenobiotic substances are becoming an increasingly large problem in Sewage Treatment systems, since they are relatively new substances and are very difficult to categorize. Antibiotics, for example, were derived from plants originally, and so mimic naturally occurring substances. This, along with the natural monopoly nature of municipal Waste Water Treatment Plants makes it nearly impossible to remove this new pollutant load.

Some xenobiotics are resistant to degradation. For example, they may be synthetic organochlorides such as plastics and pesticides, or naturally occurring organic chemicals such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and some fractions of crude oil and coal. However, it is believed that microorganisms are capable of degrading all the different complex and resistant xenobiotics found on the earth.

Inter-species organ transplantation

The term xenobiotic is also used to refer to organs transplanted from one species to another. For example, some researchers hope that hearts and other organs could be transplanted from pigs to humans. Many people die every year whose lives could have been saved if a critical organ had been available for transplant. Kidneys are currently the most commonly transplanted organ. Xenobiotic organs would need to be developed in such a way that they would not be rejected by the immune system. With the development of vitrification transplantable organs could be stored in organ banks for long periods.

See also

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cs:Xenobiotikum de:Xenobiotika lt:Ksenobiotikas nl:Xenobioticum sv:Xenobiotika



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