Nanoparticles – a new study suggests they could stunt crop growth

  • © wattpublishing @

    © wattpublishing @

    A new study on nano-zinc oxide and nano-cerium oxide, two common nano particles, suggests that they can accumulate in crops such as soybeans and may stunt soil- fertilising bacteria. These findings may have food supply implications.

  • Zinc oxide (ZnO) and cerium oxide (CeO2) are commonly manufactured into nanoparticles which are used in products like sunscreens and to improve combustion efficiency in automobiles. The particles can end up in the environment via drains and sewage sludge.
  • The result of the study was the contamination of edible plant tissue (although implications for food safety are as yet unknown), diminished crop growth and in the case of high nano-CeO2 concentration, nitrogen fixation shut down.
  • The research provides new insight on the environmental effects of widespread use of nanotechnology. Most importantly it highlights the importance of guidelines that are adequate for the use of available technologies, but which also allow for the many beneficial uses of nano-products.

Implications and next steps: This study contributes to the debate on the use of guidelines for new nanotechnology to protect the environment and population, without cutting out benefits. More research may be needed to build consensus on this highly debated topic.

PNAS:, Wired:

About Joao Delgado

Joao is a Research Fellow in Futures Research and leads on medium-large scale futures projects at CERF. Amongst other projects, he has led the development of scenarios for the future of river basin management for the Environment Agency. His professional interests include veterinary science, epidemiology, risk and systems thinking.
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