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Extramural Research

Manufactured Nanoparticles May Impact Crop Yield and Food Quality

Soybean plants growing in a UCSB greenhouse Credit: Laurie C. Van De Werfhorst, UCSB STAR researchers at the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, have published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that manufactured nanoparticles in agricultural soil can accumulate in plants and can  affect plant growth and food quality.  This was the first major study of soybeans grown in manufactured nanomaterials-tainted soil. The researchers looked at the effects of zinc and cerium oxides.

Nanomaterials, used in everything from lotions and makeup to fuel additives can be transported into air, water and soil and can impact plant growth and food quality.  Soil contamination may come from the final stage of wastewater treatment which creates biosolids, which are 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 but is also a point at which zinc oxide and cerium oxide can enter the soil. Cerium oxide may also contaminate soils from air deposition as a combustion biproduct.

The researchers found that zinc oxide accumulated in the plants grown in the tainted soil and affected food quality although it may not be harmful to humans if the zinc is in salt or ion form in the plant. The cerium oxide however stunted plant growth, affecting the root nodules where bacteria symbiotically convert nitrogen in the air to a form plants can use. The researchers conclude there is a high probability of nanoparticles in crop soil but more research is necessary to determine impact on crops and consumers.  This research was co-funded by EPA and NSF.

Press Release: UCSB Scientists Examine Effects of Manufactured Nanoparticles on Soybean Crops Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

For more info on this research see:
University of California – Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC-CEIN)

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