Data on the effect of nanoparticles on living species – from worms to humans – released

An international team of scientists has completed the first-ever study of the potential health effects of natural and artificial nanoparticles for all major living animal species. Researchers at the University of Plymouth’s EU Nanofase project evaluated how the intestines of various living species – from honeybees to humans – can protect them from bioaccumulation and toxicological effects of engineering nanomaterials (ENM) found in the environment. The research is published in the journal Environmental Science: Nano

A study by scientists has shown that the digestive systems of many species have become a barrier, protecting them from absorbing potentially harmful particles. However, invertebrates such as earthworms have motile cells in the intestines that can absorb and transport ENM.

This poses an additional risk for many species of invertebrates – particles can be absorbed through these mobile cells, and later affect the functioning of internal organs and cause damage.

Fortunately, this process is not repeated in humans and other vertebrates, but nanomaterials can still have a negative impact on the food chain.

The study involved scientists from the UK, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Portugal and focused on particles up to 100 nanometers in size.

The study combined existing and new research on species, including insects and other invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals, and identified gaps in knowledge about reptiles and amphibians. The report provides the first comprehensive review of how differences in gut structure may affect the effects of ENM on the animal kingdom.

This work by a team of scientists combines nearly 100 years of zoological research with the modern understanding of nanotechnology scientists.

The threats posed by engineered nanomaterials are becoming increasingly known, but this study provides the first comprehensive species-level assessment of how they might represent current and future threats. It should lay the foundations for understanding dietary hazards in the animal kingdom.

Richard Handy, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Plymouth and senior study author

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