Why Some Farmers Suffer from Organophosphate Poisoning and Others Do Not

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Organophosphate pesticides are extremely damaging molecules, but some farmers appear not to be badly affected by them whilst others are severely affected. It is a bit like smoking - everybody knows of the smoker who lives until 100, but susceptible individuals die young from cancer and heart disease. The question is what is the difference between the farmers who do suffer from OP poisoning and the farmers that do not?

This question has been partly answered by Professor Nicola Cherry, who has looked at the ability of the body to detoxify organophosphates. The enzyme which does this, namely paraoxonase, was measured in the blood. In addition, the gene for this enzyme and its polymorphs were also looked at.

Professor Cherry found that patients with organophosphate poisoning were slow metabolisers - that is to say the organophosphates remain in their blood stream for much longer than they should. Furthermore, she found that the slow metabolisers who suffered from OP poisoning had the sort of genes which caused this problem.

This work is very important because it certainly supports the idea that organophosphates do cause ill-health. Furthermore, it should be possible to predict which farmers are more susceptible to OP poisoning than others.

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