Those nanoparticles eventually end up in agricultural soil, which is a cause for concern, according to a group of environmental scientists that recently carried out the first major study of soybeans grown in soil contaminated by two manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs).
Pictured are soybean stem, leaves, bean pods, and roots. The roots contain nodules where bacteria accumulate and convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which fertilizes the plant.
Credit: Patricia Holden
The team was led by scientists at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. The team is also affiliated with the UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), a $24 million collaboration based at UCLA, with researchers from UCSB, UC Davis, UC Riverside, University of Texas at El Paso, Columbia University, and other national and international partners. The results of the study are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our society has become more environmentally aware in the last few decades, and that results in our government and scientists asking questions about the safety of new types of chemical ingredients," said senior author Patricia Holden, a professor with the Bren School. "That's reflected by this type of research."
She explained that the research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is helping to discover potential environmental implications of a new industry that includes nanomaterials. The ultimate goal is to help find more environmentally compatible substitutes, Holden said.
Soybean was chosen for the study due to its importance as a food crop –– it is the fifth largest crop in global agricultural production and second in the U.S. –– and because it is vulnerable to MNMs. The findings showed that crop yield and quality are affected by the addition of MNMs to the soil.
The scientists studied the effects of two common nanoparticles, zinc oxide and cerium oxide, on soybeans grown in soil in greenhouses. Zinc oxide is used in cosmetics, lotions, and sunscreens. Cerium oxide is used as an ingredient in catalytic converters to minimize carbon monoxide production, and in fuel to increase fuel combustion. Cerium can enter soil through the atmosphere when fuel additives are released with diesel fuel combustion.
The zinc oxide nanoparticles may dissolve, or they may remain as a particle, or re-form as a particle, as they are processed through wastewater treatment. At the final stage of wastewater treatment there is a solid material, called biosolids, which is applied to soils in many parts of the U.S. This solid material fertilizes the soil, returning nitrogen and phosphorus that are captured during wastewater treatment. This is also a point at which zinc oxide and cerium oxide can enter the soil.
The scientists noted that the EPA requires pretreatment programs to limit direct industrial metal discharge into publicly owned wastewater treatment plants. However, the research team conveyed that "MNMs –– while measurable in the wastewater treatment plant systems –– are neither monitored nor regulated, have a high affinity for activated sludge bacteria, and thus concentrate in biosolids."
The authors pointed out that soybean crops are farmed with equipment powered by fossil fuels, and thus MNMs can also be deposited into the soil through exhaust.
The study showed that soybean plants grown in soil that contained zinc oxide bioaccumulated zinc; they absorbed it into the stems, leaves, and beans. Food quality was affected, although it may not be harmful to humans to eat the soybeans if the zinc is in the form of ions or salts, in the plants, according to Holden.
In the case of cerium oxide, the nanoparticles did not bioaccumulate, but plant growth was stunted. Changes occurred in the root nodules, where symbiotic bacteria normally accumulate and convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which fertilizes the plant. The changes in the root nodules indicate that greater use of synthetic fertilizers might be necessary with the buildup of MNMs in the soil.
Holden commented on the likelihood of high concentrations of these nanoparticles in agriculture: "There could be hotspots, places where you have accumulation, including near manufacturing sites where the materials are being made, or if there are spills. We have very limited information about the quantity or state of these synthetic nanomaterials in the environment right now. We know they're being used in consumer goods, and we know they're going down the drain."
First author John H. Priester is a staff scientist in the Holden lab at UCSB. Other co-authors from UC CEIN are Yuan Ge, Randall E. Mielke, Allison M. Horst, Shelly Cole Moritz, Roger M. Nisbet, Joshua P. Schimel, Jose A. Hernandez-Viezcas, Lijuan Zhao, and Jorge L. Gardea-Torresdey. Co-authors Katherine Espinosa and Reid G. Palmer are affiliated with Iowa State University; Jeff Gelb is affiliated with Xradia Corporation; and Sharon L. Walker is with UC Riverside. NASA/JPL-Caltech, the USDA, and The University of Texas at El Paso were substantially involved in the research.
Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
Faba fix for corn's nitrogen need
11.04.2018 | American Society of Agronomy
Wheat research discovery yields genetic secrets that could shape future crops
09.04.2018 | John Innes Centre
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy