Scientists declare knowledge gap in nanoagriculture

A team of chemists at the University of Texas at El Paso report that, based on a review of nearly 100 scientific articles, little is known about the effects nanoparticles have on food crops.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

Question marks remain over the uptake, translocation, and biotransformation pathways of nanoparticles in a plant system. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

At just 1/50,000 the width of an average human hair, nanoparticles are widely used in cosmetics, medicines, and more.

But their emerging use in agriculture has raised questions about health and environmental effects, and a new report by a team of chemists at the University of Texas at El Paso concludes that those questions don't yet have answers.

After reviewing nearly 100 scientific articles on the effects of a variety of nanoparticles on edible plants (including cucumbers, rye, barley, and zucchini), the team found that both uptake and build-up of nanoparticles vary widely depending on plant type as well as nanoparticle size and chemical composition.

The researchers, led by Dr. Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, had set out to better understand whether certain plants take up and accumulate nanoparticles, and if so whether this interaction poses problems for the plants--and the animals that eat those plants.

At the end of their analysis of nearly 100 studies, the researchers were left reporting that they simply couldn't find many answers. They then point to the "emerging field of nanoecotoxicology" to tackle these questions.

Their report appears in its entirety in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.