Nanoparticles can damage plant DNA

We eat radishes. "Radish Roll" (Photo credit: ulterior epicure)

It’s not good news, but it’s also not unexpected. Recent experiments with adding engineered nanoparticles to plants’ diets determined that the plants started gradually shriveling up and dying.

Specifically, the plants being experimented with were radishes and two ryegrass ground covers that grazing animals commonly eat.  Researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) wanted to learn:

…whether nanosizing cupric oxide [a reactive chemical that removes electrons from other compounds] made the generation and accumulation of DNA lesions more or less likely in plants. If the former, the researchers also wanted to find out if nanosizing had any substantial effects on plant growth and health.

They found out. The radishes absorbed twice as much cupric oxide and developed twice as many DNA lesions when the mineral came in smaller nanoparticles versus those bigger than 100 nanometers. And the results on the radish seedlings were definitively destructive.

Although the DNA of the two ryegrasses was not as dramatically affected, in all three plant species, growth of both roots and shoots was significantly stunted. Next up for these researchers will be similar testing with “titanium dioxide nanoparticles — such as those used in many sunscreens — on rice plants.”

This report’s conclusions stick strictly to the science and don’t project anything about how the effects of this experiment might apply to human beings being injected or otherwise treated with medicines or protocols involving nano-sized particles. It’s reassuring, at least, to know that high-level researchers are working to test the safety of nanoparticles for living systems. Let’s hope this series of experiments is the first of many that will lead to new, strict standards for nano-sized development.

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