The field of nanomaterials is exploding, with exponential growth both in the types of nanomaterials invented and the amounts being produced. Innovations in this field hold great promise for technological advances. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the potential toxicity of nanoparticles is not keeping up with the growth of the nanotechnology field, hindering our ability to use nanotechnology in a safe manner.
The Meyer lab is working as part of CEINT (short video overview) to systematically investigate the environmental and organismal fate and effects of nanoparticles. We test for uptake, distribution, and toxicity in C. elegans in different environments. For example, in the image to the right, silver nanoparticles have been ingested and transported to developing eggs (i.e., the next generation!). We also test mechanistic hypotheses regarding modes of toxicity using genetic, molecular and toxicological tools (for example, finding that most silver nanoparticle toxicity resulted from dissolution of the particles), compare the results to those obtained in other organisms, as well as linking to the physical-chemical characteristics and ecosystem-level effects studied by our collaborators. We recently found that organic matter significantly decreases the toxicity of silver nanoparticles in C. elegans, which is important because most organisms likely to encounter nanoparticles in the environment will do so in water that contains organic matter.
To learn more about nanomaterials and research into environmental exposure, try these sites for a start:
- The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
- “Nanotechnology’s Big Future”
- Buzea et al., 2007 – “Nanomaterials and nanoparticles: sources and toxicity.”
- Weisner et al., 2009 – “Decreasing uncertainties in assessing environmental exposure, risk, and ecological implications of nanomaterials.”
- What have we learned about nanoparticle toxicity from worms?
- Great short (2- and 4-minute), non-jargony discussions on whether nanoparticles in general and silver nanoparticles in particular are threats to health, from Andrew Maynards’ Risk Bites series.