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Scientists at Scripps Research Institute address mysteries of ozone in the human body

In what is a first for biology, a team of investigators at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is reporting that the human body makes ozone.

Led by TSRI President Richard Lerner, Ph.D. and Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry Paul Wentworth, Jr, Ph.D., who made the original discovery, the team has been slowly gathering evidence over the last few years that the human body produces the reactive gas--most famous as the ultraviolet ray-absorbing component of the ozone layer--as part of a mechanism to protect it from bacteria and fungi.

"Ozone was a big surprise," says TSRI Professor Bernard Babior, M.D., Ph.D. "But it seems that biological systems manufacture ozone, and that ozone has an effect on those biological systems."

Now, in an important development in this unfolding story, Babior, Wentworth, and their TSRI colleagues report in an upcoming issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the ozone appears to be produced in a process involving human immune cells known as neutrophils and human immune proteins known as antibodies.

"It is a tremendously efficient chemical and biological process," says Wentworth, who adds that the presence of ozone in the human body may be linked to inflammation, and therefore this work may have tremendous ramifications for treating inflammatory diseases.

The Ozone Hole in Each One of Us

Ozone is a reactive form of oxygen that exists naturally as a trace gas in the atmosphere. It is perhaps best known for its crucial role absorbing ultraviolet radiation in the stratosphere, where it is concentrated in a so-called ozone layer, protecting life on earth from solar radiation. Ozone is also a familiar component of air in industrial and urban settings where the gas is a hazardous component of smog. However, ozone has never before been detected in biology.

Two years ago, Lerner and Wentworth demonstrated that antibodies ar
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Contact: Jason Bardi
jasonb@scripps.edu
858-784-9254
Scripps Research Institute
27-Feb-2003


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