How do amino acids relate to important concerns like toxicology and climate change? In a newly defended doctoral thesis Javier Zurita Perez at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES) shows how new techniques and methodologies can help in answering some important questions regarding the roles and implications of amino acids in health and the environment.
Amino acids are essential biomolecules that can have different roles for biological organisms and be present in various environments. Javier Zurita Perez’ thesis deals with developing sensitive and selective mass spectrometry-based methodologies in order to measure these biomolecules and to answer questions regarding their relevance in health and the environment.
“For instance, I have updated the existing methodology to determine BMAA, an amino acid which is a known neurotoxin related to ALS and Alzheimer’s disease”, he says.
Javier Zurita Perez has also worked with the presence of proteins in the arctic fogs arising from marine microorganisms and influencing cloud formation. Beside this, he has used high-resolution mass spectrometry with an updated methodology to determine chemical modifications of amino acids from exposure to known environmental threats, for example the group of chemicals called PAHs.
“I think dealing with biomolecules in both biological and environmental matrices is at the same time challenging and very interesting as it touches on aspects closely related with the day-to-day of the society. In this respect, this thesis has given me the opportunity to investigate crucial biomolecules, amino acids, and relate them with some of the most important social concerns of today, like exposure to toxic substances present in the environment and climate change.”
He believes that the highly advanced mass spectrometric techniques in combination with adequate sample pre-treatment methodologies can help in answering some important questions regarding the roles and implications of amino acids in health and the environment.
“This is the first time that proteinaceous material, not only free amino acids, was measured in aerosols and fog from the Arctic, therefore contributing to the formation of clouds. Their presence may have increased as a consequence of global warming and the decrease of the ice coverage in the arctic region.”
Javier Zurita Perez says that he has always been interested in helping to elucidate some of the roles that chemicals can have in the environment and in close relation to human activities.
“I hope some of the information contained in this thesis can shed some light on some of today’s gaps regarding crucial social problems such as climate change and exposure to known toxins”, he says.
“In this respect, analytical chemistry can aid in developing good strategies leading to unequivocal identification and quantification of the biomolecules, or in general of any chemical substance, of interest.”
The thesis “Amino acids with relevance for health, climate and the environment: Development of mass spectrometric methods” can be read here.
Text: Javier Zurita Perez and Annika Hallman