For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Gentic Engineering page and our Information on Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology page.
Though some might argue that nanotechnology offers benefits not afforded by normal molecules, the environmental and human health consequences of this "breakthrough" technology appear dire, to say the least. New research published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials explains that nanoparticles damage beneficial soil bacteria and ultimately ruin plants' ability to uptake necessary nitrogen.
Researchers Niraj Kumar and Virginia Walker from Queen's University in Canada set out to investigate the effects of nanoparticles in the environment, comparing soil from the Arctic -- which they believed would be the least contaminated with nanoparticles -- to soil that was deliberately contaminated with various nanoparticles, including silver nanoparticles.
"We hadn't thought we would see much of an impact, but instead our results indicate that silver nanoparticles can be classified as highly toxic to microbial communities," the team wrote. "This is particularly concerning when you consider the vulnerability of the arctic ecosystem."
According to the team's analysis, uncontaminated soil contains beneficial microbes, some of which are necessary to help plants absorb nitrogen. But when nanoparticles enter the picture, these microbes are largely killed off. The end result is plants that lack nitrogen, and which thus lack the ability to grow properly and maintain necessary levels of vital nutrients.