Nanoparticles Can Damage Plant DNA, Study Says
Engineered nanoparticles have been found to enter plant root cells and cause damage to their DNA, according to a study conducted by researchers with the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, The New York Times Green reports.
Laboratory experiments revealed that plants exposed to high concentrations of nano-scale copper oxide particles were critically stunted. Radishes and two species of rye grass were used in the experiment. The nanoparticles ranged in size from 1 to 100 nanometers. Larger copper oxide and copper ions were also used as controls in the experiment.
The lesions that developed on the plants DNA bases as a result of exposure could lead to crop diseases and cause plant death.
Dr. Bryant Nelson, the NIST biochemist who led the experiment, shares that the findings mostly point out the fact that nanoparticles have the ability to enter the environmental stream and specific plant systems. The possibility of DNA damage increases once it has entered the cell nucleus. Dr. Nelson adds that an accidental spill of nanoparticle on a farm would mean a likely loss of the crop, affecting farmers and consumers alike.
Though the plants showed different levels of susceptibility to DNA damage caused by the nanoparticles, there is no guarantee that the nanoparticles’ possible toxicity can be understood or controlled in the near future to avoid harmful effects. Scientific study of their use and effect in agriculture is still in its infancy, Dr. Nelson says.
An earlier study in 2010 showed that carbon nanotubes, a form of carbon based nanomaterial, increased levels of reactive oxygen species in cells from rice plants. Oxidative stress can cause programmed plant cell death.
The effects of nanoparticles on the environment have been widely discussed in recent years, but many things about them remain little understood. The nano-ecotoxicology’s field of research is still considered young, and the different ways nanoparticles affect the environment is continuously being studied.
One concern is when nanoparticles find their way to the environment after being disposed of, where they may affect ecosystems in unpredicted ways.
Nano-sized particles can be naturally found in the environment such as biogenic magnetite and lipoprotein particles. They can occur due to forest fires and volcano lava. They can also come from anthropogenic sources such as power plants, internal combustion engines, and incinerators. Intentionally engineered nanoparticles include quantum dots, nanoshells, nanowires and others. They are used in medical, cosmetic, optic, electronic, and other applications. Carbon based nanomaterials such as “buckyballs” fullerenes and nanotubes are used in flame retardants for plastics, coatings, and in flat panel displays.
Plants can be exposed to nano-sized particles through the air and wastewater permeating the soil. Humans and animals can be exposed to nano-sized particles through respiration, ingestion, dermal, and injection routes. Once nano-sized particles enter the bloodstream, they can potentially be carried through different organs such as the kidney, heart, and spleen and others. Neurological diseases, heart diseases and abnormalities, auto-immune diseases and many more may result from exposure to nanoparticles.
Intentionally engineered nanoparticles are a new material with many potential uses and benefits, but also bring with them a lot of questions regarding their potentially risky effects. It is hoped that with their advance in modern technology, their risks can be greater understood and minimized for the safety of both humans and the environment.
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