Toxic nanoparticles might be entering human food supply, study finds

August 22, 2013
Graduate student Zhong Zhang applies silver nanoparticles to a piece of fruit. In a recent study, University of Missouri researchers found that these particles could pose a potential health risk to humans and the environment. Credit: University of Missouri

Over the last few years, the use of nanomaterials for water treatment, food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and other industries has increased. For example, farmers have used silver nanoparticles as a pesticide because of their capability to suppress the growth of harmful organisms. However, a growing concern is that these particles could pose a potential health risk to humans and the environment. In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a reliable method for detecting silver nanoparticles in fresh produce and other food products.

"More than 1,000 products on the market are nanotechnology-based products," said Mengshi Lin, associate professor of food science in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "This is a concern because we do not know the toxicity of the nanoparticles. Our goal is to detect, identify and quantify these nanoparticles in food and food products and study their toxicity as soon as possible."

Lin and his colleagues, including MU scientists Azlin Mustapha and Bongkosh Vardhanabhuti, studied the residue and penetration of silver nanoparticles on pear skin. First, the scientists immersed the pears in a silver nanoparticle solution similar to pesticide application. The pears were then washed and rinsed repeatedly. Results showed that four days after the treatment and rinsing, silver nanoparticles were still attached to the skin, and the smaller particles were able to penetrate the skin and reach the pear pulp.

"The penetration of silver nanoparticles is dangerous to consumers because they have the ability to relocate in the human body after digestion," Lin said. "Therefore, smaller nanoparticles may be more harmful to consumers than larger counterparts."

When ingested, nanoparticles pass into the blood and , circulate through the body and reach potentially sensitive sites such as the spleen, brain, liver and heart.

The growing trend to use other types of nanoparticles has revolutionized the food industry by enhancing flavors, improving supplement delivery, keeping food fresh longer and brightening the colors of food. However, researchers worry that the use of silver nanoparticles could harm the human body.

"This study provides a promising approach for detecting the contamination of in food crops or other agricultural products," Lin said.

Members of Lin's research team also included Zhong Zang, a food science graduate student. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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8 comments

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TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (8) Aug 22, 2013
Only machines will be able to survive the coming onslaught of chem/bio/nano toxins. Pity.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (16) Aug 22, 2013
Only machines will be able to survive the coming onslaught of chem/bio/nano toxins. Pity.

But wasn't it you who said that genetic mutations from radiation were not only good for mankind, but essential for survival? And similarly, wouldn't adaptation to these toxins eliminate the weaker members of the species resulting in a superior human race? Mein Fuhrer, nanoparticles will help us win this time!
Mitchhastheanswers
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 22, 2013
This is troubling to me, and I am not easily swayed. Metallic nanoparticles have a special way of penetrating cell membranes and can cause damage to RNA and interfere with normal cellular functions. Gold Nanoparticles are used to deliver drugs to tumors due to this trait.

In other news, my foot it starting to feel better and I can move around my work almost like someone who has two legs. Nice to have science in every imaginable way to help fill my day between limping around with customers smiling as best I can, cheers Phys.org community, you make me smile and inform me when my co-workers sit around whining yet again about everything. ;)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (5) Aug 23, 2013
Only machines will be able to survive the coming onslaught of chem/bio/nano toxins. Pity.

But wasn't it you who said that genetic mutations from radiation were not only good for mankind, but essential for survival? And similarly, wouldn't adaptation to these toxins eliminate the weaker members of the species resulting in a superior human race? Mein Fuhrer, nanoparticles will help us win this time!
Why no I never said this. Many extinction scenarios are unsurvivable. Perhaps your hero tesla aka electro could help in some situations. Too bad the Nazis assassinated him. Red Skull perhaps. Perhaps.
SolidRecovery
1 / 5 (11) Aug 23, 2013
I honestly don't know what to make of this article. Nanoparticles are used in medicine (imaging, drug delivery ect.) including silver nanoparticles. "However, researchers worry that the use of silver nanoparticles could harm the human body." The key word is could. The article is jumping to conclusions here without much evidence. Although, the evidence could be out there and cited. This could go either way.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) Aug 23, 2013
But to be fair tk we can consider technology a form of evolutionary adaptation can't we? Instead of growing fur we make clothes and fire. Instead of growing fangs and talons we make weapons.

We have externalized our adaptation to the point that we cannot survive without our technology. And we have just begun internalizing this tech, replacing body parts with machine components which can perform better. And soon enough in cosmological terms there will be no biology left to the human form.

Can this be considered an extinction event or only evolutionary adaptation? Does a precursor species really disappear or only morph into something more suited and better adapted? I don't know. I wonder what Tesla would say.
d2xyz
2 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2013
Counter agent. It's called digestion.
http://www.scienc...06006710
anti-geoengineering
1 / 5 (10) Aug 25, 2013
Monsanto has their dirty paws in this i'm sure...

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