Over the last few decades, nanotechnology has improved many of the products we use every day, from sun cream to crack-resistant paint. However, these nanoparticles are ending up in our environment in huge quantities.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota, U.S, have suggested that nanoparticles may have a bigger impact on the environment than previously thought.
The researchers found that a common, non-disease-causing bacteria found in the environment developed rapid resistance when it was exposed to nanoparticles.
Resistance is when the bacteria are able to survive at higher quantities of the materials, meaning that the fundamental biology of the bacteria is changing.
This study is different than previous studies because it looked at what happens over a more extended period of time, testing how the bacteria might change and adapt when exposed to large quantities of nanoparticles.
Erin Carlson, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study said: ‘At many times throughout history, materials and chemicals like asbestos and DDT have not been tested thoroughly and have caused big problems for our environment.’
‘We don’t know that these results are dire, but this study is a warning sign that we need to be careful with all of these new materials because they could rapidly change what is happening in our environment.’
‘This research is very important to humans because bacteria are prevalent in our lakes and soil where there is a delicate balance of organisms. Other organisms feed on these microbes and these could have a major effect on the food chain or these resistant bacteria could have other effects that we can’t even predict right now.’
Michelle Bushey, program director for the Chemical Centres for Innovation program of the National Science Foundation said: ‘This work reveals unexplored and long-term impacts that some nanoparticles have on the living organisms around us.’
‘This discovery is the first step towards developing new sustainable materials and practices, as well as providing the groundwork for possible remediation approaches.’
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