WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2011 — With the curtain about to rise on a much-anticipated new era of “nanoagriculture” — using nanotechnology to boost the productivity of plants for food, fuel, and other uses — scientists are describing huge gaps in knowledge about the effects of nanoparticles on corn, tomatoes, rice and other food crops. That’s the topic of the latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) award-winning “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions” podcast series.
Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., notes in the podcast that nanoparticles, which are 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, are used in products ranging from medicines to cosmetics. Gardea-Torresdey and colleagues are at The University of Texas at El Paso. He is a co- investigator for the NSF/EPA University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology.
Nanoparticles also could end up in the environment, settling in the soil, especially as fertilizers, growth enhancers and other nanoagricultural products hit the market. Some plants can take up and accumulate nanoparticles. But it is unclear whether this poses a problem for plants or for the animals that eat them. So, the researchers sorted through the scientific literature looking for evidence to settle the safety question.
The podcast is based on a review article in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, in which the scientists analyzed nearly 100 scientific articles on the effects of different types of nanoparticles on edible plants. They found that the uptake and buildup of nanoparticles varies, and these factors largely depend on the type of plant and the size and chemical composition of the nanoparticles.
“This literature review has confirmed that knowledge on plant toxicity of nanomaterials is at the foundation stage, “Gardea-Torresdey said. “The emerging field of nanoecotoxicology is starting to tackle this topic, and it will be interesting to see what we discover in the coming years.”
Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions is a series of podcasts describing some of the 21st Century’s most daunting problems, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. Global Challenges is the centerpiece in an alliance on sustainability between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Global Challenges is a sweeping panorama of global challenges that includes dilemmas such as providing a hungry, thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water; developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel society; preserving the environment and assuring a sustainable future for our children; and improving human health. During the 2011 global celebration of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions also is focusing on the main themes of IYC — health, environment, energy, and materials.