Uses of 2-Mercaptoethanol – Properties – Harmful Effects

What is 2-Mercaptoethanol?

2-Mercaptoethanol is a chemical compound that has the chemical formula HOCH2CH2SH. It has several other names, such as β-Mercaptoethanol, BME, 2BME, 2-ME, and β-ME. 2-Mercaptoethanol is a clear, colorless liquid. It also has an extremely strong foul odor due to its diminished vapor pressure.

2-Mercaptoethanol is used to reduce disulfide bonds. It can also act as a biological antioxidant by scavenging hydroxyl radicals. 2-Mercaptoethanol is a good reducing agent as it will react quickly with oxidizers. It is also a very stable chemicals under ordinary conditions of use and storage.

Uses of 2-Mercaptoethanol

2-Mercaptoethanol main use is as a reduction agent. Other uses of that chemical can be seen as listed below.

  • Disulfide reduction agents
  • Biochemical agents
  • Reducing proteins: 2-Mercaptoethanol can be used to denature some proteins. The rapid process of protein disulfides reduction with 2-Mercaptoethanol proceeds via two-step process which involves an intermediate mixed disulfide. 2-Mercaptoethanol is often used interchangeably with dithiothreitol (DTT) or tris(2-carboxyethyl) phosphine (TCEP). 2-Mercaptoethanol is more stable than DTT although it has a higher volatility. The half-life of 2-Mercaptoethanol at the pH level 6.5 is more than 100 hours and its half life at the pH level 8.5 is 4 hours.
  • Preventing protein oxidation: 2-Mercaptoethanol is often included in enzymatic reactions. It is used to inhibit the oxidation of free sulfhydryl residues, as a result it maintains the protein activity.
  • Enzyme assays/evaluate: 2-Mercaptoethanol is used in several enzyme evaluations as a standard buffer component.
  • Denaturing ribonucleases: 2-Mercaptoehanol is used in some RNA isolations. It serves in the isolation process to eliminate ribonucleases released during cell lysis. 2-Mercaptoethanol is also used to reduce disulfide bonds that make ribonucleases very stable enzymes and irreversibly denature the proteins. That use prevents them from digesting the RNA during its extraction procedure.
  • Food industry: 2-Mercaptoethanol is also used in the food industry as an indirect food additive that serves as a flavoring agent.
  • Industrial uses: 2-Mercaptoethanol has many usages for industrial purpose, such as corrosion inhibitors, anti-scaling agent, intermediates, process regulators, and processing aids (this use is specific to petroleum production).
  • Therapeutic uses: 2-Mercaptoethanol is used for therapeutic purposes because it has the ability to enhance the colony formation in vitro.
  • Dyestuffs: 2-Mercaptoethanol is used as both solvents and intermediate for producing dyestuffs.
  • Flotation agents
  • Oil and gas drilling
  • Water treatment products
  • Rubber chemicals
  • Plasticizers
  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Textile auxiliary
  • Water-soluble reducing agents
  • PVC: 2-Mercaptoethanol plays an important role in the production of PVC. It is used as the PVC stabilizers.
  • Pesticides: 2-Mercaptoethanol is also used as a formula in a pesticide. It is used specifically as insecticides.

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Health effects of 2-Mercaptoethanol

Although It has several uses that benefit us, 2-Mercaptoethanol can also bring us some serious side effects. Its effects can enter our body through direct contact, ingestion, or even inhalation. 

Some of 2-Mercaptoethanol can be seen as listed below.

  • Redness and pain in the eyes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Toxic
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Fatigue
  • Damage in the central nervous system
  • Irritation to the nasal passageway
  • Irritation in the mucous membrane
  • Irritation in the respiratory tract
  • Irritation to the skin
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing
  • Muscle contraction
  • Tremor
  • Respiratory depression
  • Changes in the structure of salivary gland
  • Stomach pain through ingestion
  • Organ Damage: 2-Mercaptoethanol may cause damage to several organs through prolonged exposure
  • Death: A severe exposure of 2-Mercaptoethanol can cause death
  • Mixture that contains 2-Mercaptoethanol is known to be flammable. Its recommended extinguishing medias are dry powder, foam, and carbon dioxide as water is not effective to extinguish 2-Mercaptoethanol flames. Fire caused by 2-Mercaptoetanol can’t be taken lightly as its gas is highly toxic for humans and its burning may produce sulfur dioxide.
    Exposure of 2-Mercaptoethanol, in certain cases, may be inevitable. If you are exposed to the chemicals, you can treat it with first aid measures. They can be seen as listed below
  • Inhalation: Move to a place with fresh air. You may also want to call a physician.
  • Ingestion: Induce vomiting as immediate as you can through the direction of a medical personnel.
  • Skin contact: Immediately wash your hands with plenty of soap and water. Do it for at least 15 minutes. Seek for medical attention.
  • Eye contact: Immediately flush your eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Lift your lower and upper eyes occasionally. Seek for medical attention immediately.

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Other harmful effects of 2-Mercaptoethanol

Besides human, 2-Mercaptoethanol can also bring harmful effects to several animals and other organisms. The effects may vary depending on the dosage which the organisms are exposed. Harmful effects of 2-Mercaptoehanol to other organisms are narcosis, decreases in respiratory rate, cyanosis, central nervous system depression (such as muscle weakness, incoordination, and coma), and even death. A chronic injection of 2-Mercaptoethanol to lab animals can also bring them harmful effects, such as minor cardiovascular system regulatory disorder, decreasing number of hemoglobin, and sever hematopoietic effects.

Some animals and organisms that are affected by harmful effects of 2-Mercaptoethanol can be seen as listed below.

  • Rabbit: An undiluted application of 2-Mercaptoethanol to rabbit eyes are toxic to its conjunctiva. It can also cause long-lasting severe corneal opacity.
  • Baboons: A chronic exposure of 2-Mercaptoethanol can produce arteriosclerosis in baboons. The exposure is also cytotoxic to endothelial cells in vitro.
  • Chicken: 2-Mercaptoethanol is also known to have an effect to chicken. It inhibits the closure of neural tube in explanted embryo.
  • Rats: Rats that are chronically exposed to 2-Mercaptoethanol affects those rats’ protein synthesis. An exposure of 2-Mercaptoethanol slows down the rate of protein synthesis in rats. 2-Mercaptoethanol can also cause mutation through DNA inhibition in the rat’s liver.
  • Hamsters: 2-Mercaptoethanol is also known to have an effect in Chinese hamster. It is known to increase the sister chromatid exchange rates to that species’ ovarian cells.
  • Aquatic life: 2-Mercaptoethanol is toxic to the aquatic life. It can even affect aquatic life with long lasting effects.
  • Frogs: 2-Mercaptoethanol is also toxic to frogs. It shows a slight negative inotropic and small chronotropic effects on isolated frogs’ heart.
  • Microorganisms: 2-Mercaptoethanol can cause mutation to some microorganisms which leads to the damage in its DNA.

Indeed, that’s the brief explanation about the uses of 2-Mercaptoethanol and its health risks.