Duckweed, a model for plant for nanoecotoxicology research. Image provided by Dr N Musee
Few of us ever give a second thought to rinsing a paint brush, cleaning make-up off, or washing a clothing item. With an increase in commercial products containing nanoparticles, we should perhaps be asking how these particles influence the world around us as they enter the environment and our waterways. How will ecosystems cope? Will this impact the quality of drinking water?
Based at the CSIR, Dr. Ndeke Musee and his research group are asking precisely these questions, one of the leading centres for nanoecotoxicology research in South Africa. In some of their current research, scientists in his group are using an aquatic floating plant, commonly known as duckweed, as a model for their studies to measure the possible effects of certain nanoparticles in water.
Along with his colleagues, Dr Musee’s research has provided strong evidence that, even at very low concentrations, zinc oxide and silver nanoparticles have the potential to induce oxidative stress in plants, changing the activity of certain proteins. Much of this is centred on the physicochemical properties of the nanomaterials once in water. In water, silver nanoparticles stay mostly in particulate form, but some of the zinc oxide nanoparticles break down into zinc ions.
It is believed that it is the combination of these zinc oxide nanoparticles and ions which cause the elevated damage observed, contrasted to their individual effects.
That certain nanoparticles from everyday items hold the potential to influence the health of living things in water is clear. The work at the CSIR is critical then in paving the way for developing clearer guidelines for responsible nanomaterial application and use.
For more information visit:
Recent publication: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2013/EM/C3EM00235G (full paper for the results highlighted above)
Writer: Febe Wilken