Over the past two decades, nanotechnology has improved many of the products we use every day from microelectronics to sunscreen. Nanoparticles (particles that are only a few hundred atoms in size) end up in the environment of tons, but researchers are still unclear about the long-term effects of these super-small nanoparticles.
In a first of its kind, researchers have shown that nanoparticles can have a greater impact on the environment than previously thought. The research is published in Chemical Science a scientifically reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Researchers from the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, led by researchers at the University of Minnesota, found that a common, non-disease-causing bacterium found in the environment, called Shewanella oneidensis MR-1
"Many times throughout history, materials and chemicals such as asbestos or DDT have not been extensively tested and have caused major problems in our environment," said Erin Carlson, a University of Minnesota chemistry associate professor at the University's Science and Technology University and principal author of study. "We don't know that these results are so terrible, but this study is a warning sign that we need to be careful about all these new materials, and that they can dramatically change what's happening in our environment."
Carlson said the results of this study are unusual because it is usually when we talk about bacterial resistance that we have treated the bacteria with antibiotics. The bacteria become resistant because we try to kill them, she said. In this case, the nanoparticles used in lithium-ion batteries were never made to kill bacteria.
This is the first report of non-antibacterial nanoparticles that caused bacterial resistance.
Previously, many studies in the field of bacteria were exposed to a large dose of nanoparticles and were observed if the bacteria died. This study was different because it looked at what happens over a long period of time to test how the bacteria can adapt for several generations when continuously exposed to the nanoparticles. The bacteria could clearly take higher and higher doses of these materials over time without dying.
"Although a nanoparticle may not be toxic to a microbe, it can still be dangerous," said Stephanie Mitchell, a University of Minnesota doctoral student in chemistry and a leading doctoral student in this study.
Carlson warns that the results of this study go far beyond just bacteria.
"This research is very important to humans because bacteria are prevalent in our lakes and soils where there is a delicate balance between organisms. Other organisms feed on these microbes and it can have a major upside in the food chain or these resistant bacteria may have other effects that we can't even predict right now. "
Carlson said that researchers will continue follow-up studies to determine the effects of other human-made nanomaterials on other organisms in the environment and the long-term effects.
"Research that both advances technology and sustains our environmental ronment is a priority for the Department of Chemistry," said Michelle Bushey, Program Director for Chemical Centers for Innovation Programs at the National Science Foundation. "This work reveals unexplored and long-term effects that certain nanoparticles have on the living organisms around us. This discovery at the chemistry-biology interface is a first step toward developing new sustainable materials and practices, as well as providing the foundation for possible decontamination. "
Researchers use nanoparticles made from bacteria to fight antibiotic-resistant infections like MRSA
Stephanie L. Mitchell et al., Chronic exposure to complex metal oxide nanoparticles induces rapid resistance in Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, Chemical Science (2019). DOI: 10.1039 / C9SC01942A
Nanoparticles may have greater impact on the environment than previously thought (2019, October 9)
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