Understanding the environmental behaviour and biological impacts of manufactured nanoparticles in natural aquatic systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Nanoparticles are solid material with sizes between 1 and 100 nm (1 nm is 1000 millionth of a metre). Particles of this size exist in natural waters and are produced by processes such as weathering and microbial activity (natural nanoparticles). They include humic substances, simple sugars (polysaccharides), metal oxides, viruses and other phases. In addition, these sizes of particles are now produced by human activity and include compounds such as fullerenes and nanotubes (manufactured nanoparticles) that have many uses in industry, including in the production of stain-proof fabrics, more efficient computer components, skin lotions with enhanced penetration capabilities, and as tools to clean up contaminated land. Billions of pounds are currently being spent in Europe, Japan, the USA and elsewhere in the research and manufacture of these nanoparticles. However, almost nothing is known about their environmental behaviour or impacts. Some manufactured nanoparticles have been shown to induce toxic effects in animals when taken into the lungs, but almost nothing about effects on animals living in the aquatic environment. Manufactured nanoparticles are potentially harmful in natural waters as toxins or carriers of trace pollutants, but their behaviour (e.g. their uptake and toxicity in fish) will be modified by the way in which natural nanoparticles interact with them. This project will seek to address these interactions and assess the impact on manufactured nanoparticle fate and behaviour in natural waters. It will produce the first data on the potential impact of manufactured nanoparticles on the aquatic environment.


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