Drugs used to treat HIV and flu can have detrimental impact on crops

January 28, 2021

The increased global use of antiviral and antiretroviral medication could have a detrimental impact on crops and potentially heighten resistance to their effects, new research has suggested.

Scientists from the UK and Kenya found that lettuce plants exposed to a higher concentration of four commonly-used drugs could be more than a third smaller in biomass than those grown in a drug-free environment.

They also examined how the chemicals transferred throughout the crop and found that, in some cases, concentrations were as strong in the leaves as they were in the roots.

The study - published in Science of the Total Environment - was conducted by environmental chemists from the University of Plymouth (UK), Kisii University (Kenya) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Kenya).

It is one of the first worldwide to examine the impact of pharmaceutical compounds on agriculture, and to consider the subsequent risks for consumers.

For it, scientists focused on the drugs nevirapine, lamivudine and efavirenz - which are used to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS - and oseltamivir, which stops the spread of the flu virus in the body.

However, they say it is also relevant in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, with antiviral medications having been approved for use to treat those affected by the virus.

Such compounds get into soils when they are irrigated with contaminated surface water, treated or untreated waste water, sewage sludge and biosolids.

Through a series of analyses, they showed there were differing levels of uptake across the four drugs with lamivudine exhibiting the lowest bioaccumulation - a level similar to that shown previously with caffeine.

However, when exposed to a combination of the four drugs (as would be found in the wider environment) mean leaf and root mass was reduced by 34%.

Preston Akenga, PhD researcher and the study's lead author, said: "The occurrence of pharmaceutical compounds in the environment is well documented. While the environmental levels measured may not pose a direct threat to human health, evidence of ecological effects in both aquatic and terrestrial systems demonstrates an environmental impact that could be significant if left unchecked."

The research team has previously suggested that failure to ensure the environmental sustainability of growing patient access to medicines in developing economies could increase the risk of adverse environmental impacts.

They also published research highlighting that the increased use of antibiotics in people with COVID-19 could be placing an additional burden on waste water treatment works and resulting in increased resistance to the drugs' benefits among the wider population.

Mark Fitzsimons, Professor of Environment Chemistry and a co-author on the research, said: "The successful trialling of antiviral drugs in the treatment of COVID-19 is positive for human health outcomes, but may result in significant additional input of pharmaceutical compounds to the environment leading to unintended ecological consequences."

Sean Comber, Professor of Environment Chemistry and the senior author on the research, added: "We hope this is the start of taking the fate and behaviour of antibiotic and antiviral drugs in the environment seriously. We can therefore link the prescription and the consequences for the benefit of both the patient and the ecosystem as a whole."

University of Plymouth

Related Agriculture Articles from Brightsurf:

Post-pandemic brave new world of agriculture
Recent events have shown how vulnerable the meat processing industry is to COVID-19.

Agriculture - a climate villain? Maybe not!
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that agriculture is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, and is thus by many observers considered as a climate villain.

Digital agriculture paves the road to agricultural sustainability
In a study published in Nature Sustainability, researchers outline how to develop a more sustainable land management system through data collection and stakeholder buy-in.

Comparisons of organic and conventional agriculture need to be better, say researchers
The environmental effects of agriculture and food are hotly debated.

EU agriculture not viable for the future
The current reform proposals of the EU Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are unlikely to improve environmental protection, say researchers led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Göttingen in the journal Science.

Global agriculture: Impending threats to biodiversity
A new study compares the effects of expansion vs. intensification of cropland use on global agricultural markets and biodiversity, and finds that the expansion strategy poses a particularly serious threat to biodiversity in the tropics.

A new vision for genomics in animal agriculture
Iowa State University animal scientists helped to form a blueprint to guide the next decade of animal genomics research.

New pathways for sustainable agriculture
Diversity beats monotony: a colourful patchwork of small, differently used plots can bring advantages to agriculture and nature.

The future of agriculture is computerized
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative have used computer algorithms to determine the optimal growing conditions to improve basil plants' taste by maximizing the concentration of flavorful molecules known as volatile compounds.

When yesterday's agriculture feeds today's water pollution
Water quality is threatened by a long history of fertilizer use on land, Canadian scientists find.

Read More: Agriculture News and Agriculture Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.