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Scientists track chemical reactions in pet food
Updated Fri. Apr. 27 2007 5:27 PM ET
Ashleigh Patterson, CTV.ca News
"Researchers at the University of Guelph say they have discovered a chemical
reaction that may explain how animals across North America fell ill after
eating contaminated pet food.
Dr. Perry Martos and colleagues from the Agriculture and Food Laboratory at
Guelph's Laboratory Services announced Friday they have discovered a
dangerous reaction when melamine and cyanuric acid - the two contaminants
found in the imported wheat gluten used in the pet food -- are combined.
The two chemicals react to form crystals that could block kidney function.
The crystal-like substances found in the urine and kidneys of affected
animals matched the crystals produced when the chemicals were combined at
the University's Animal Health Laboratory.
Researchers believe this is a possible link between the compounds and the
deaths of animals exposed to the contaminated pet food.
"This was really just another piece of the puzzle," John Melichercik,
Director of Analytical Services for Laboratory Services told CTV.ca.
Scientists took laboratory levels of melamine and cyanuric acid and added
them together in a test tube at a PH level that mimics the environment of
the kidneys of an animal.
"When we did it in the laboratory and it was instantaneous," Melichercik
"What were two clear liquids, when were combined, actually go very murky and
if you leave it for a little bit, these crystals settle out and you can pick
them off and then analyze them."
Melichercik explained the process produced a "chemical fingerprint" that
allowed scientists to compare their findings with what was found in the
kidneys of sick animals.
"We overlaid those two fingerprints and they were basically the same
However, Melichercik was quick to point out that the university's findings
were only a small part of the research needed to find out what caused pets
to become sick from the recalled pet food.
"This is not the definitive on the entire case but it is another significant
piece of the puzzle that shows inside the body of animals if you have these
two components present, they can come together and form these crystals which
are being found in all of the animals that have been sick."
Melamine is used in making plastics and in other industrial processes and
cyanuric acid is commonly used in pool chlorination.
Traces of both chemicals turned up in tests conducted last month after
animals across North America fell ill after eating certain brands of pet
food. The chemicals were in wheat gluten, an ingredient in he pet food.
Melichercik said there is already body of research regarding the industrial
effects of combining the two compounds, but there was no previous research
on the effects they have when combined and ingested by animals.
"That's fairly novel, that information hasn't been out there previously as
we've been working through these particular cases over the last five weeks
or so," Melichercik said.
Officials estimate nearly 39,000 pets were sickened in the U.S. after nearly
100 brands of now recalled pet food were sold, which equated to about one
per cent of the overall U.S. pet food supply.
Ontario-based Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans of wet pet food after it
was learned they contained contaminated wheat gluten imported from China.
Wheat gluten is used as a source of protein for animals. It was initially
believed the gluten was contaminated by aminopterin; a rat poison and cancer
Melamine is not considered to be a health risk to humans; however scientists
have yet to study the effects of melamine combined with other compounds on
the human body."