US researchers have been able to isolate a family of enzymes that help to eliminate toxins and key to designing more efficient drugs.

The enzymes called cytochrome P450s or P450 are found in animals, plants, fungi and bacteria and are responsible for metabolism of about 75 percent of known pharmaceuticals. Scientists are working on isolating P450 for over four decades. An individual can either react positively or negatively based on the levels of the different P450s he has in his liver, lungs and other organs.

"The reactions that P450s perform to detoxify a compound are interesting because they activate chemical bonds that are usually not reactive. Chemically speaking, this is a very difficult thing to do in a controlled way," said Michael Green of the department of chemistry at Penn State University. Green and a former student have published a study on isolating the P450 compound I, being published in the journal Science.

This work confirms the existence of compound I, and demonstrates that it can perform the type of chemical reactions for which P450s are known," said Green. "Now that we can make this chemical species, we can begin to do larger scale studies to understand just how it performs this chemistry."

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