GAINESVILLE ---Chemists at the University of Florida are perfecting ways to take industrial waste and turn it into new medical compounds that have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of some prescription drugs.
The chemists use bacteria that occurs naturally in soil to transform harmful chemicals like benzene, found in oil and oil products, into useful compounds that can be turned into drugs.
"We can transform environmentally unfriendly chemicals into something friendly and useful," said David Gonzalez, a chemistry research assistant at UF.
In a process known as ?Green Chemistry,' chemists feed the chemical or industrial waste to the bacteria Pseudomonas putida in the lab. The bacteria consumes the waste, leaving behind valuable compounds. The process reduces environmentally unfriendly and costly wastes that might otherwise end up in the soil.
The bacteria was discovered in the 1960s at the University of Illinois, with research continuing at the University of Texas and the University of Iowa. At UF, chemist Tomas Hudlicky has worked with chemical applications for this process since the late 1980s and leads the research.
"You actually have to pay to get rid of the waste," Hudlicky said. "But if you convert the waste into something with a high value attached to it ... then you're actually making money on the waste product itself."
Gonzalez said some drugs extracted from plants can only be obtained in small amounts. Green Chemistry methods allow pharmaceutical companies to prepare the drugs in a laboratory as well as preserve the environment, he said. In most cases, synthetic drugs are preferable to natural drugs because quality control is better and they have a more predictable response among patients, said Randy Hatton, co-director of the Drug Information and Pharmacy Resource Center at UF College of Pharmacy.