Nanopollutants Pose Crop Risk: Tiny Particles Can Boost Toxic Absorption by Plants

By Raloff, Janet | Science News, October 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Nanopollutants Pose Crop Risk: Tiny Particles Can Boost Toxic Absorption by Plants


Raloff, Janet, Science News


Nanoscale pollutants entering crop roots trigger a host of changes that can stunt growth, boost the plants' absorption of pollutants and increase the need for crop fertilizers.

Crops are exposed to manufactured nanomaterials in the exhaust from diesel-fueled tractors and in fabrics, sunscreens and other products that collect in the solids separated out of sewage and wastewater. These solids are routinely spread on U.S. fields to improve soils. Two new studies offer a glimpse at the toxic effects such nanoparticles may pose to future crops as exposures rise.

To study the impact on crops, a team led by Patricia Holden of the University of California, Santa Barbara exposed soy plants from germination through bean production to soil treated with either of two widely marketed metal-oxide nanomaterials: the cerium oxide used as a catalyst in diesel fuel and other products, or the zinc oxide particles used in sunscreens and as antibacterial agents.

This is the first investigation of the effects of nanomaterials on plants exposed via soil. "That's cool and obviously relevant to how plants would be affected in their native environment," notes analytical chemist Mark Schoenfisch of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Compared with untreated plants, those grown in soil spiked with the highest dose of zinc oxide nanoparticles developed fewer leaves, Holden's team reported in the Sept. 11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By contrast, cerium oxide stunted plant growth at all concentrations, "but most dramatically at the lowest level used," Holden says. …

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