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Drugs in the environment affect plant growth

17 December 2014

With the number of people taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs now at an all-time high, concerns have been raised about the effect of these molecules on the environment after they have left our bodies.  A new study led by the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth has shown that the growth of certain edible crops (such as lettuce and radish plants) can be impacted by various non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are widely distributed (e.g. ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac).  The study, published recently in the Journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, assessed growth factors such as overall size and root and shoot length, as well as water content and how well the plants preformed photosynthesis. 

Interestingly, it was observed that particular groups of compounds show similarities in the way they affect plant growth, for example compounds that contain the fenamic acid functional group were all found to have an adverse effect on the growth of radish roots.  In other cases, it was noted that effects can differ between plant species.

The effect of pharmaceutical compounds on the environment has been a growing cause for concern over the last few years, with specific questions surrounding animal development and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. However, this study looks at the effect of these compounds on the growth of agricultural crops for the first time and suggests further studies are required to investigate these effects in more detail, especially at very low levels of environmental contamination.

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