Test finds manufactured nanoparticles don't harm soil ecology

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The first published study on the environmental impact of manufactured nanoparticles on ordinary soil showed no negative effects, which is contrary to concerns voiced by some that the microscopic particles could be harmful to organisms.

Scientists added both dry and water-based forms of manufactured fullerenes - nanosized particles also known as buckyballs - to soil. The nanoparticles didn't change how the soil and its microorganisms functioned, said Ron Turco, a Purdue University soil and environmental microbiologist.

Concerns surround the increased use of nanoparticles in everything from car bumpers, sunscreen and tennis balls to disease diagnosis and treatment. Questions have arisen about whether the microscopic materials could trigger diseases if they enter the soil or water through manufacturing processes or if medicines based on nanoparticles behave in unexpected ways in the body.

Turco's research team designed its study to test how different levels of buckyballs affect soil microorganisms, including bacteria that are responsible for breaking down organic material and producing carbon dioxide and other compounds. Results of the study are published online and in the April 15 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The scientists collected information from soil found in farm fields, and then they mixed in buckyballs. The research results will serve as baseline data for comparison as research progresses on all types and sizes of nanomaterials, said Turco, the study's senior author.

"Fullerenes will be in the soil eventually, so it's good to know they aren't affecting soil microorganisms," he said. "Bacteria in the soil are the basis of the food chain, so you don't want to change them because then you affect everything up the food chain - plants, animals, people."

Two levels of carbon-based buckyballs were tested in soil collected from no-till plots at the Purd

Contact: Susan A. Steeves
Purdue University

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