Science of poisons

Toxicology is a broad and wide-ranging subject that touches almost every aspect of our daily lives from foods, cosmetics and household products in the home, through pharmaceuticals and medical devices in hospitals and pharmacies to pesticides, plants, metals and industrial chemicals in the environment. A toxicologist’s job is to study how chemical, physical or biological substances affect living organisms (humans, dogs, fish etc.) and ecosystems. There are many kinds of toxicologist, each with their own particular skill set.

What skills are needed?

All toxicologists need a good understanding of biology and chemistry and need to be able to communicate their findings clearly and effectively. Clinical toxicologists work in hospitals and have a wide knowledge of various poisons and their effects on the body. Clinical toxicologists are often involved in diagnosing and treating suspected poisonings.

Analytical toxicologists detect, identify and measure foreign compounds in biological samples (such as blood).  

Forensic toxicologists deal in the medico-legal aspects of drugs, chemicals and poisonings. Such cases range from the simple alcohol blood sample analysis to establishing potential intentional or unintentional causes of death.

Industrial toxicologists help design and assess what impact products, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, cosmetics and medical devices, may have on people. The entry of such products into the marketplace is controlled by regulatory toxicologist; these toxicologists ensure that these products are fit-for-purpose and appropriate for release to the general population.

Ecotoxicologists study how substances affect the environment – this can cover a vast range of species on land and in the water.

Academic toxicologists teach toxicology to students and study the mechanisms behind the observed effects of different chemical, physical or biological substances.

Did you know? 

The most toxic substance known to man, botulinum toxin (found in “Botox”), can kill with exposure to as little as 0.0000005g!