Common nanoparticles found to be highly toxic to Arctic ecosystem

April 6, 2011, Queen's University
Queen's University researchers Niraj Kumar and Virginia Walker next to the equipment they used to measure the respiration of microbe communities living in Arctic soil samples. Measuring this respiration rate allowed them to determine the toxic effect of silver nanoparticles to the microbe communities living in the soil. Credit: Queen's University

Queen's researchers have discovered that nanoparticles, which are now present in everything from socks to salad dressing and suntan lotion, may have irreparably damaging effects on soil systems and the environment.

"Millions of tonnes of nanoparticles are now manufactured every year, including silver nanoparticles which are popular as antibacterial agents," says Virginia Walker, a professor in the Department of Biology. "We started to wonder what the impact of all these nanoparticles might be on the environment, particularly on ."

The team acquired a sample of soil from the Arctic as part of their involvement in the International Polar Year initiative. The soil was sourced from a remote Arctic site as they felt that this soil stood the greatest chance of being uncontaminated by any nanoparticles.

"We hadn't thought we would see much of an impact, but instead our results indicate that silver nanoparticles can be classified as highly toxic to . This is particularly concerning when you consider the vulnerability of the arctic ecosystem."

Dr. Walker further noted that although technological progress is important, the world has a history of welcoming innovations prior to reflecting on their impact on the environment. Such examples include the discovery of the insecticide DDT, the use of the drug thalidomide during pregnancy and the widespread use of .

The researchers first examined the indigenous microbe communities living in the uncontaminated soil samples before adding three different kinds of nanoparticles, including silver. The soil samples were then left for six months to see how the addition of the nanoparticles affected the microbe communities. What the researchers found was both remarkable and concerning.

The original analysis of the uncontaminated soil had identified a beneficial microbe that helps fix nitrogen to plants. As plants are unable to fix nitrogen themselves and is essential for plant nutrition, the presence of these particular microbes in soil is vital for plant growth. The analysis of the soil sample six months after the addition of the silver nanoparticles showed negligible quantities of the important nitrogen-fixing species remaining and laboratory experiments showed that they were more than a million times susceptible to than other species.

These pioneering findings by Queen's researchers Niraj Kumar and Virginia Walker and Dowling College's Vishal Shah have been published today in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the highest ranking journal in Civil Engineering.

Explore further: Researchers Examine the Environmental Effects of Silver Nanoparticles

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1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2011
So wait. They're warning us that antimicrobial silver nanoparticles are highly toxic to microbial communities? Isn't that an indication of how effective the nanoparticles are at performing their stated purpose?
5 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2011
The purpose of antimicrobial agents like nano silver are not to kill bacteria resident in the soil, but those in contact with humans. Unfortunately every substance that we use ends up into the environment. It's like with gasoline used to drive your car. On the positive side we get our car to move with it, but on the other hand we have these acid rains and buildup of CO2. I think that the main question here is are the benefits of nano silver so great that we want to live with it's environmental burden? Silver is also toxic to many things living in water, including fish.

They have good data about silver toxicity from the time it was used in photographic films and developing those released it to sewers and therefore to environment.
not rated yet Apr 07, 2011
Gee! We'll make billions, and what could go wrong?
not rated yet Apr 07, 2011
This might be the big one. We can't really stand more insults to the plant community, with global weirding and temperature wildness.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2011
Yah the author revealed his Leftist bias. DDT was NEVER dangerous, and the banning of it condemned millions of kids to death by malaria. One of the great crimes in human history, and these jackasses reference it like it was a good thing come just a little too late.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
I guess authors are not creating panic but asking for wise use and careful consideration of nanotechnology.

As rightly said
"substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiate a poison and a remedy"

-Parcelus (Father of modern toxicologAlly)

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