inStem’s fabric offers protection from pesticides

Published - June 29, 2024 09:10 pm IST

The fabric deactivates the pesticide and breaks it down into non-toxic products

The fabric deactivates the pesticide and breaks it down into non-toxic products

Researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), in Bengaluru have developed an anti-insecticide fabric that effectively neutralises organophosphate-based pesticides. In an earlier work published about six years ago, the team had developed a gel for topical dermal application to deactivate the pesticides. But considering that compliance might be poor, the researchers looked at another alternative that is as effective in deactivating the insecticide but at the same time does not reduce compliance.

When esters present in organophosphate-based pesticides enter the body they bind and inhibit an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase or AChE) critical for neuromuscular function from working. Therefore, inhibition of this important enzyme is implicated in learning deficits, suffocation, paralysis, muscle weakness among others.

In a paper published recently in Nature Communications, the team led by Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula from inStem coated the cotton fabric with small molecules, rendering the final product the ability to deactivate the insecticide. “The small molecules are covalently bonded with the cellulose of the fabric making the cloth not only breathable but also durable,” says Dr. Vemula. The small molecules that are covalently bonded with the fabric are nucleophile in nature, and can detoxify the pesticides upon contact through nucleophile-mediated hydrolysis, says Dr. Vemula. “The fabric attacks the pesticide molecule and breaks it into non-toxic products. The pesticide is deactivated even before it reaches the skin surface,” he says. The fabric with covalently-bonded small molecules was developed in collaboration with Sepio Health Pvt Ltd, a spin-off company from inStem.

“The fabric retains the anti-insecticide property even after washing 150 times.” Though the reusability after 50 cycles was reported in the paper, the researchers continued the reusability testing and found the effectiveness to last up to 150 cycles of washing. “Unlike the gel, the reusability will make the fabric an affordable solution to prevent insecticide-induced toxicity to farmers. It will also increase compliance,” he says.

According to Dr, Vemula, the small molecule-coated fabric does not act as a physical barrier to organophosphate-based insecticide. Instead, the fabric hydrolytically deactivates the insecticides, causing the prevention of insecticide-induced AChE inhibition.

To investigate the efficiency of the fabric containing the small molecules, the active AChE in the blood before and three days after exposure to the insecticide was measured in rats. While direct exposure or when normal cloth did little to halt the drop in active AChE in blood, no reduction in blood active AchE level was observed in the presence of the fabric coated with small molecules. Several organs from the exposed and unexposed rats were studied and compared, and the researchers found that the active AChE levels in the organs did not drop in the case of rats that were exposed to the insecticide in the presence of the fabric coated with small molecules. Also, while rats that were repeatedly and directly exposed to ethyl paraoxon (an activated organophosphate insecticide) or through the normal fabric died within four days, none of the rats exposed to the insecticide in the presence of the special fabric died.

Farmers get repeatedly exposed to the insecticide due to frequent usage, and this can cause chronic toxicity and severe adverse health effects. The animal study results show promise that the fabric containing the small molecules can prevent chronic toxicity in farmers, he says.

“The design of one nucleophile that can deactivate a wide range of organophosphates and carbamates was challenging. Subsequently, optimising the industry-friendly chemistry to covalently attach on the fabric was the key in developing anti-pesticide fabric,” says Dr. Ketan Thorat, a former research student at inStem and coauthor of the paper.

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