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Food additives in nano size affect nutrient uptake – midget particles lead to midget worms


Researchers from the IUF – Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf showed that particular nanoparticles affect nutrient uptake in the roundworm. The study was published in “Nanotoxicology”.

Nanoparticles from silicon dioxide (silica; SiO₂) are added to food products for example as anticaking agent. Recent research results from the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans show that within the intestinal cells of the roundworm nano silica disturb the uptake and use of digested proteins.

Microscopic picture of C. elegans with schematic nanoparticles (round, red) and the distribution of the nanoparticles after ingestion within the intestine (also red)

A. von Mikecz / IUF

The building blocks of proteins are deposited in storage vesicles within the intestinal cells and are not available for subsequent metabolism. Thereby the worms remain small, have less offsprings and show premature aging.

This is a disadvantage for wild roundworms which are exposed to nanoparticles in the environment. If those nano scaled food additives also have a negative impact on human nutrition needs to be investigated.

The corresponding study was conducted by Professor Anna von Mikecz, group leader at IUF – Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf, and her coworkers and published in “Nanotoxicology”.

“Silica nanoparticles act as nutrition trap in the intestine of the roundworm and thereby lead to malnutrition, reduced fitness and premature aging”, explains Prof. Anna von Mikecz. “In the next step we will investigate if and how the changes in the intestine also affect the nervous system in our model system.”

The safety of nanomaterials is one of the research focuses at the IUF und accordingly the IUF is member of the Leibniz Research Alliance Nanosafety.

About the IUF
The IUF – Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine investigates the molecular mechanisms through which particles, radiation and environmental chemicals harm human health. The main working areas are environmentally induced aging of the pulmonary system and the skin as well as disturbances of the nervous and immune system. Through development of novel model systems, the IUF contributes to the improvement of risk assessment and the identification of novel strategies for the prevention / therapy of environmentally induced health damage.

More information:

The IUF is part of the Leibniz Association:

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Anna von Mikecz, group leader
Phone: +49 (0)211 3389 358


Piechulek A, Berwanger LC, von Mikecz A: Silica nanoparticles disrupt OPT-2/PEP-2-dependent trafficking of nutrient peptides in the intestinal epithelium. Nanotoxicol 13(8): 1133-1148, 2019. doi: 10.1080/17435390.2019.1643048

Christiane Klasen | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

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