Study Finds Common Man-Made Nanoparticles Can Damage Plant DNA
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) have provided the first evidence that engineered nanoparticles are able to accumulate within plants and damage their DNA. In a recent paper,1 the team led by NIST chemist Bryant C. Nelson showed that under laboratory conditions, cupric oxide nanoparticles have the capacity to enter plant root cells and generate many mutagenic DNA base lesions.
The team tested the man-made, ultrafine particles between 1 and 100 nanometers in size on a human food crop, the radish, and two species of common groundcovers used by grazing animals, perennial and annual ryegrass. This research is part of NIST's work to help characterize the potential environmental, health and safety (EHS) risks of nanomaterials, and develop methods for identifying and measuring them.
Cupric oxide (also known as copper (II) oxide or CuO) is a compound that has been used for many years as a pigment for coloring glass and ceramics, as a polish for optics, and as a catalyst in the manufacture of rayon. Cupric oxide also is a strong conductor of electric current, a property enhanced at the nanoscale level, which makes the nanoparticle form useful to semiconductor manufacturers.
Because cupric oxide is an oxidizing agent—a reactive chemical that removes electrons from other compounds—it may pose a risk. Oxidation caused by metal oxides has been shown to induce DNA damage in certain organisms. What Nelson and his colleagues wanted to learn was whether nanosizing cupric oxide made the generation and accumulation of DNA lesions more or less likely in plants. If the former, the researchers also wanted to find out if nanosizing had any substantial effects on plant growth and health.
To obtain the answers, the NIST/UMass researchers first exposed radishes and the two ryegrasses to both cupric oxide nanoparticles and larger sized cupric oxide particles (bigger than 100 nanometers) as well as to simple copper ions. They then used a pair of highly sensitive spectrographic techniques2 to evaluate the formation and accumulation of DNA base lesions and to determine if and how much copper was taken up by the plants.
For the radishes, twice as many lesions were induced in plants exposed to nanoparticles as were in those exposed to the larger particles. Additionally, the cellular uptake of copper from the nanoparticles was significantly greater than the uptake of copper from the larger particles. The DNA damage profiles for the ryegrasses differed from the radish profiles, indicating that nanoparticle-induced DNA damage is dependent on the plant species and on the nanoparticle concentration.
Finally, the researchers showed that cupric oxide nanoparticles had a significant effect on growth, stunting the development of both roots and shoots in all three plant species tested. The nanoparticle concentrations used in this study were higher than those likely to be encountered by plants under a typical soil exposure scenario.
"To our knowledge, this is first evidence that there could be a 'nano-based effect' for cupric oxide in the environment where size plays a role in the increased generation and accumulation of numerous mutagenic DNA lesions in plants," Nelson says.
Next up for Nelson and his colleagues is a similar study looking at the impact of titanium dioxide nanoparticles—such as those used in many sunscreens—on rice plants.
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1. D.H. Atha, H. Wang, E.J. Petersen, D. Cleveland, R.D. Holbrook, P. Jaruga, M. Dizdaroglu, B. Xing and B.C. Nelson. Copper oxide nanoparticle mediated DNA damage in terrestrial plant models. Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 46 (3): pages 1819-1827 (2012), DOI: 10.1021/es202660k.
2. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to detect base lesions and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to measure copper uptake.
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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