Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Providing Safe Foods: Safety of nanoparticles in food crops
is still unclear

August 22, 2011

Corn

Scientists are reporting a huge gap in
knowledge about the effects of nanoparticles
on corn, tomatoes, rice and other food crops.
Credit: iStock

Summary

Despite the everyday use of nanoparticles in consumer products,
it turns out that there are still many answered questions
concerning how nanoparticles affect corn, tomatoes, rice and
other food crops. Do these tiny substances harm crops or could
they boost crop yields or nutritional value? An article on this topic
appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Despite the everyday use of nanoparticles in consumer products, it turns out that there are still many answered questions concerning how nanoparticles affect corn, tomatoes, rice and other food crops. Do these tiny substances harm crops or could they boost crop yields or nutritional value? An article on this topic appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The study’s lead author is Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., who is at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is also a co-investigator for the National Science Foundation/Environmental Protection Agency University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. Here’s what Gardea-Torresdey had to say about the issue…

“Nanoparticles, which are 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, are used in products ranging from medicines to cosmetics. The particles 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 (like humans) that eat them.”

The researchers sorted through the scientific literature looking for evidence to settle the safety question, analyzing nearly 100 scientific articles on the effects of different types of nanoparticles on edible plants. They found that the uptake and build-up 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. 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.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D.
Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D.,
University of Texas, El Pasol