Tag Archives: nanoparticles

Two books: Science Ruining Everything and Nanoparticles before nanotechnology

With 20 days left of its Kickstarter campaign, the SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543 (an SMBC [Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal] Collection) has amassed $184, 562 for a project with a goal of $20,000.  Some of the more expensive incentives have been snapped but there are still lots of choices. From the campaign page,

SMBC (short for “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”) is a daily-updated comic strip about all sorts of topics. Its author, Zach Weinersmith, is a giant dork who also has many other geeky projects such as producing SMBC Theater, writing for Snowflakes, his science blog the Weinerworks, and his science-themed podcast The Weekly Weinersmith (which he co-hosts with his wife, the parasitologist Kelly Weinersmith).

So it will come as no huge surprise that this, the third SMBC printed collection, is a compendium of his finest science-related strips.

Phil Plait in a Jan. 23, 2013 article for Slate.com describes the project and his involvement,

Today, Zach [Weiner] announced a new and exciting project: He’s collecting his science comics into a single compendium which he’s calling “Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543”. And it’s not just old comics; he’s also written some new ones for the book. He’s creating this book as a Kickstarter project. Give him money, and when it’s done he’ll send you the book.

And there’s more, too: He asked some well-known scientists on the web to send him a personal story about science in their lives, regaling how it’s affected them, and Zach will draw them up as a comic to put in the book. And guess who he asked? Well, the only one he told me about is me, but he assures me there are others. So I sent him an All-True Tale of Bad Astronomy Past, and he created a multi-panel comic about it.

Here’s a representative image of the artwork,

Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543. It's true. Image credit: Zach Weiner [downloaded from http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/23/saturday_morning_breakfast_cereal_new_science_book_of_web_comics.html]

Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543. It’s true.
Image credit: Zach Weiner [downloaded from http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/23/saturday_morning_breakfast_cereal_new_science_book_of_web_comics.html]

If you go to Phil Plait’s article , you can will find some panels from the collection or you can visit the Science: Ruining Everything campaign page to view a video presentation and learn more about the various incentives.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Nanowiki website have published their third book, Nanoparticles Before Nanotechnology. From the Nanowiki introduction page,

This year we chose the subject of Nanoparticles Before Nanotechnology simply because we were suspicious that nanoparticles are too often, in scientific and non-scientific circles, perceived as invented, while we think they should be understood as discovered.

Nanomaterials are claimed to be so new that people become scared. However, before nanotechnology, one can find nanoparticles in the works of both nature and Man, although they passed unnoticed by us until recently. The origin of nanoparticles in nature is basically i) biogenic, ii) geogenic (and also at the bio-inorganic interface), or iii) cosmogenic, while the nanoparticles produced by men come unintentionally from origins as burning wood and oil or unnoticed in crafted stuff such as cosmetics and colored glass and ceramics.

Additionally, to bring nano closer to society, following the same demystifying aims, we present a set of experiments, Hands On, in which some basics and useful nanoscale phenomena can be easily observed, such as preparing photonic crystals that look like opals, disinfecting water, or harvesting energy.

You can find many options (paper and various e-pub choices)  for getting the book if you follow the link provided previously or you can access the low res web version here as I did. Gorgeous images festoon the book and I wish they’d listed the sources or credits for them. They are truly stunning, even in low res. As for the text, I think they’ve provided a thoughtful compilation of information and organized it very well (I scanned the book quickly). I particularly appreciate having links so I can easily check out the sources for myself and I found a few things I didn’t know about, always a thrill.

In common with most emerging technology topics, knowledge about nanoparticles and other aspects of nanotechnology can change quickly as new data extends or contradicts what was previously believed. Within that context, this is one of the best resources I’ve seen and I’m thankful these folks took the time to pull this book together.

Flesh-eating fungus, ivy and other inspirations from nature

Michael Berger has featured Dr. Mingjun Zhang’s team’s fascinating work on flesh-eating fungus in a Dec. 18, 2012 Spotlight article on Nanowerk,

“Most studies on naturally occurring organic nanoparticles have focused on higher organisms,” Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, tells Nanowerk. “Given the earth’s rich biological diversity, it is reasonable to hypothesize that naturally occurring nanoparticles, of various forms and functions, may be produced by a wide range of organisms from microbes to metazoans.”

In his research, Zhang has focused on looking at nature for inspirations for solutions to challenges in engineering and medicine, especially in small-scale, such as bioinspired nanomaterials, bioinspired energy-efficient propulsive systems, and bioinspired nanobio systems for interfacing with cellular systems.

In new work, Zhang and his research associate Dr. Yongzhong Wang have turned their focus to Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater with a predatory life stage in the fungal kingdom.

The researchers have published their work in Advanced Functional Materials ((early online publication behind a paywall),

Naturally Occurring Nanoparticles from Arthrobotrys oligospora as a Potential Immunostimulatory and Antitumor Agent by Yongzhong Wang, Leming Sun, Sijia Yi, Yujian Huang, Scott C. Lenaghan, and Mingjun Zhang in Advanced Functional Materials

Article first published online: 4 DEC 2012 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202619

Here’s the abstract,

Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater in the fungal kingdom, is a potential source for natural-based biomaterials due to the presence of specialized 3D adhesive traps that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. The purpose of this study is to discover novel nanoparticles that occur naturally in A. oligospora and to exploit its potential biomedical applications. A new culture method, fungal sitting drop culture method, is established in order to monitor the growth of A. oligospora in situ, and observe the nanoparticle production without interfering or contamination from the solid media. Abundant spherical nanoparticles secreted from the fungus are first revealed by scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. They have an average size of 360–370 nm, with a zeta potential of –33 mV at pH 6.0. Further analyses reveal that there is ≈28 μg of glycosaminoglycan and ≈550 μg of protein per mg of nanoparticles. Interestingly, the nanoparticles significantly induce TNF-α secretion in RAW264.7mouse macrophages, indicating a potential immunostimulatory effect. The nanoparticles themselves are also found slightly cytotoxic to mouse melanoma B16BL6 and human lung cancer A549 cells, and show a synergistic cytotoxic effect upon conjugation with doxorubicin against both cells. This study proposes a new approach for producing novel organic nanoparticles secreted from microorganisms under controlled conditions. The findings here also highlight the potential roles of the naturally occurring nanoparticles from A. oligospora as an immunostimulatory and antitumor agent for cancer immunochemotherapy.

In more generalized language (from Berger’s Spotlight article),

“It is really exciting to use a natural microbe system to produce nanoparticles for potential cancer therapy,” says Zhang. “Originally, we were trying to understand how the fungus secretes an adhesive trap that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. By doing that we almost accidentally discovered the nanoparticles produced.”

Zhang’s team investigated the fungal nanoparticles’ potential as a stimulant for the immune system, and found through an in vitro study that the nanoparticles activate secretion of an immune-system stimulant within a white blood cell line. They also investigated the nanoparticles’ potential as an antitumor agent by testing in vitro the toxicity to cells using two tumor cell lines, and discovered nanoparticles do kill cancer cells.

Berger’s article in addition to giving more details about Zhang’s current work and his work with ivy and possible applications for ivy-based nanoparticles in sunscreens also provides some discussion of naturally occurring nanoparticles as opposed to engineered (or man-made)  nanoparticles.

The University of Tennessee’s Dec. 4, 2012 press release is also a good source of information on Zhang’s latest work on flesh-eating fungus. For the indefatiguable who are interested in Zhang’s work on ivy and potential nanosunscreens, there’s also my July 22, 2010 posting.

Toxicology convo heats up: OECD releases report on inhalation toxicity testing and Nature Nanotechnology publishes severe critique of silver toxicity overanalysis

This has to be one of the rawest reports I’ve seen and that’s not a criticism. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has released no. 35 in its Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials titled, INHALATION TOXICITY TESTING: EXPERT MEETING ON POTENTIAL REVISIONS TO OECD TEST GUIDELINES AND GUIDANCE DOCUMENT.

This report is the outcome of a meeting which took place in fall 2011 according to the July 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The expert meeting on Inhalation Toxicity Testing for Nanomaterials was held on 19-20 October 2011 in The Hague, hosted by the Netherlands, with the aim of discussing the results of the OECD Sponsorship Programme (under the responsibility of SG3) on this specific topic and addressing issues relevant to inhalation toxicity. Fifty experts from the WPMN as well as the OECD Working Group of the National Coordinators for the Test Guidelines programme (WNT) participated in the meeting.

This is a partial list of recommendations from the report,

Recommendations raised by the speakers for the discussion

7. Various recommendations were raised by the speakers that served as points for discussion. These recommendations do not necessarily reflect a general agreement. …

• “Provide explicit guidance for the generation of aerosols (sample preparation) based on the exposure scenario”. Hans Muijser

• “Generation of a test atmosphere should have workplace characteristics, but should be adapted to adjust for rodent respirability”. Günter Oberdörster

• “A choice for a dry aerosol or a liquid aerosol should depend on the given test substance and planned test approach (hazard- or risk driven)”. Otto Creutzenberg

• “Aerosol characterization should include size distribution, mass, number and morphology of the material”. Günter Oberdörster

• “Mass concentration is not sufficient for comparison of nanomaterials of the same chemical composition”. Flemming Cassee

• “Dry powders will appear as agglomerate upon aerosolization, which needs to be addressed in the sample preparation guidelines”. Flemming Cassee

• “Dissolution behaviour of the test substance should be assessed in physiological fluids mimicking various lung-specific pH ambiences (neutral, acid)”. Otto Creutzenberg

• “Data analysis should include interpretation of aerosol characteristics, NOAEL, risk assessment implications, mode of action and a strategy for dosimetric extrapolation to humans. The inclusion of biokinetic data is important”. Günter Oberdörster

• “Include biokinetics in the guidance, since different distribution patterns in the whole organism are likely dependent on physicochemical characteristics of nanoparticle aerosols and the dose at the target site will therefore be different. This will allow the assessment of accumulation of nanomaterials in the body at low exposure levels and long-term exposure. A way to perform it is by radiolabelled materials, chemical elemental analysis to determine organ concentrations and transmission electron microscopy”. Wolfgang Kreyling. Others who have suggested inclusion of biokinetics or recognized the importance were Otto Creutzenberg, Frieke Kuper, Günter Oberdörster and David Warheit. (p. 13)

You actually see who made the recommendations! Speakers discussed carbon nanotubes, titanium dioxide, cerium oxide, zinc oxide and more, all of which you can read about in summary form in this 38 pp. report.

Meanwhile, Nature Nanotechnology has published an incendiary commentary about nanosilver and the latest request by the European Commission for another study.  Michael Berger has devoted a July 4, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article to the commentary,

A commentary by Steffen Foss Hansen and Anders Baun in this week’s Nature Nanotechnology (“When enough is enough”  [behind a paywall]) pointedly asks “when will governments and regulatory agencies stop asking for more reports and reviews, and start taking regulatory action?”

Hansen and Baun, both from the Technical University of Denmark’s Department of Environmental Engineering, take issue with yet another scientific opinion on nanosilver that has been requested by the European Commission in late 2011: “SCENIHR – Request for a scientific opinion on Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects and role in antimicrobial resistance” (pdf). Specifically, the EC wants SCENIHR to answer four questions under the general heading of ‘Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects, and role in antimicrobial resistance’.

“Most of these questions – and possibly all of them – have already been addressed by no less than 18 review articles in scientific journals, the oldest dating back to 2008, plus at least seven more reviews and reports commissioned and/or funded by governments and other organizations” Hansen tells Nanowerk. “Many of these reviews and reports go through the same literature, cover the same ground and identify many of the same data gaps and research needs.”

Here’s a prediction from Hansen and Baun as to what will be in the next report due in 2013  (from the Nature Nanotechnology commentary When enough is enough in 7, 409–411 (2012) published online  July 1, 2012 [Note: I have removed links and footnotes]),

… we predict that the SCENIHR’s upcoming review will consist of five main sections summarizing: the properties and uses of nanosilver; human and environmental toxicity; microbial resistance; risk assessment; and research needs. We also predict that the SCENIHR’s report will say something along the following lines: “Nanosilver is reportedly one of the most widely used nanomaterials in consumer products today but the scale of production and use is unknown. The antibacterial properties of nanosilver are exploited in a very diverse set of products and applications including dietary supplements, personal care products, powdered colours, textile, paper, kitchenware and food storage.” And like many previous reviews and reports, the new report is likely to cite the Consumer Product Inventory maintained by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

We acknowledge that answering the question of how to regulate the use of nanosilver is not easy given the different views of the different stakeholders in this debate and the complex regulatory landscape associated with the many applications of nanosilver. …

Arguably, we all want that the pros and cons of regulatory policy options be based on the best available science while taking broader socio-economical and ethical aspects into consideration before deciding on the appropriate regulatory measures concerning human and environmental exposure to nanosilver. Although it is common for independent scientific experts to be commissioned to gather, analyse and review the available scientific information, and to provide recommendations on how to address a given risk, we do not see the need for further reviews. It is time for the European Commission to decide on the regulatory measures that are appropriate for nanosilver. These measures should then be implemented wholeheartedly and their effectiveness monitored.

I predict this commentary will provoke some interesting responses and I will try to add the ones I can find to this posting as they become available.

ETA July 6, 2012: Dexter Johnson weighed in with his July 5, 2012 posting (Note: I have removed a link),

What may make the matter even worse is that we may already have a pretty substantial framework—in the US, at least—on which to base nanosilver regulations, which dates back to the 1950s. It concerned what was called at the time collodial silver, which is essentially what today is called nanosilver.

But getting back to current stagnant state of affairs, it’s hard to know exactly what’s causing the paralysis. It could be concern over implementing regulations in a depressed economy, or just a fear of taking a position. But in both these instances, the lack of action is making the situation worse. …

Change your gloves frequently if you’re handling nanoparticles

Québec’s IRSST (Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) has issued a May 16, 2012 news release about the results of a study on gloves and nanoparticles,

After developing a sampling protocol and selecting the best analysis and measurement techniques, the research team carried out preliminary tests using four models of nitrile, latex, neoprene and butyl rubber protective gloves and commercial titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles in powder and colloidal solution form. “The results appear to indicate that powder nanoparticles penetrated the disposable nitrile gloves after seven hours of repeated deformation, while the butyl gloves appeared to be impermeable,” explained investigator Patricia Dolez, the main author of the report. “As for nanoparticles in colloidal solutions, we measured a possibility of penetration through the gloves, in particular when the gloves were subjected to repeated deformation. These preliminary data, which need to be validated by additional studies, show that it is important to continue work in this field.”

Based on the results, the research team recommends that care be taken when choosing and using this type of personal protective equipment. “We recommend replacing, at regular intervals, protective gloves that are worn, especially thinner gloves, and gloves that have been exposed to nanoparticles in colloidal solutions,” Dr. Dolez concluded.

H/T to the June 14, 2012 news item on Nanowerk for alerting me to this work.

You can get a copy of the study, Développement d’une méthode de mesure de la pénétration des nanoparticules à travers les matériaux de gants de protection dans des conditions simulant l’utilisation en milieu de travail , but it is in French only, as of today June 14, 2012. The abstract has been translated into English. I last mentioned one of the investigators, Patricia Dolez, in passing in my Oct. 14, 2009 posting.

ETA June 14, 2012: I should also have mentioned that this was joint project with researchers from the École de technologie supérieure, École Polytechnique, and Université de Montréal were working on this project with the team from IRSST.

Nanoparticles go boom!

MIKE3 test apparatus. (image taken from "Fire and explosion properties of nanopowders", Research Report RR782, UK Health and Safety Executive)

Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written a Spotlight essay on the explosivity of nanoparticles. From the March 20, 2012 essay,

Recent studies have found that nanomaterials – in this case dusts and powders having nanosize particles – exhibit an explosion severity which is not disproportionate to micrometer-sized materials, but the likelihood of explosion is quite high due to very low ignition energies and temperatures.

The review concludes that nanomaterials present a dust explosion hazard, with metallic nanoparticles being particularly reactive. Nanomaterials have been shown to display lower ignition energy and temperature requirements than larger particles. Due to this high sensitivity, explosion hazards may exist for many processes including, but not limited to, mixing, grinding, drilling, sanding, and cleaning.

The essay is well worth a read as Berger synthesizes information from more than one study and he provides some technical detail.

Gold in them thar fuel cells

There’s a lot of interest in fuel cells where I live due primarily to the existence of Ballard Power Systems, which was founded here in the province of British Columbia, Canada. Here’s what it says on the About Ballard page,

Ballard Power Systems, Inc. is a global leader in PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell technology. We provide clean energy fuel cell products enabling optimized power systems for a range of applications. Ballard offers smarter solutions for a clean energy future.

We are actively putting fuel cells to work in high-value commercial uses every day. In fact, Ballard has designed and shipped close to 150 MW of hydrogen fuel cell technology to date.

In addition to Ballard, Canada’s National Research Council located its Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver, British Columbia (after much lobbying from the province).

Despite all the excitement over the years (especially in the beginning), the fuel cell industry in British Columbia has yet to become the revenue producer that was promised.

According to some observers, one of the keys issues has been the metals used as catalysts and once the situation is resolved, fuel cells will come into their own. Researchers at Brown University have developed a nanoparticle that outperforms other metallic catalysts. From the March 12, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Advances in fuel-cell technology have been stymied by the inadequacy of metals studied as catalysts. The drawback to platinum, other than cost, is that it absorbs carbon monoxide in reactions involving fuel cells powered by organic materials like formic acid. A more recently tested metal, palladium, breaks down over time.

Now chemists at Brown University have created a triple-headed metallic nanoparticle that they say outperforms and outlasts all others at the anode end in formic-acid fuel-cell reactions. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (“Structure-Induced Enhancement in Electrooxidation of Trimetallic FePtAu Nanoparticles”), the researchers report a 4-nanometer iron-platinum-gold nanoparticle (FePtAu), with a tetragonal crystal structure, generates higher current per unit of mass than any other nanoparticle catalyst tested. Moreover, the trimetallic nanoparticle at Brown performs nearly as well after 13 hours as it did at the start. By contrast, another nanoparticle assembly tested under identical conditions lost nearly 90 percent of its performance in just one-quarter of the time.

The March 12, 2012 news release from Brown University describes how gold improves performance,

Gold plays key roles in the reaction. First, it acts as a community organizer of sorts, leading the iron and platinum atoms into neat, uniform layers within the nanoparticle. The gold atoms then exit the stage, binding to the outer surface of the nanoparticle assembly. Gold is effective at ordering the iron and platinum atoms because the gold atoms create extra space within the nanoparticle sphere at the outset. When the gold atoms diffuse from the space upon heating, they create more room for the iron and platinum atoms to assemble themselves. Gold creates the crystallization chemists want in the nanoparticle assembly at lower temperature.

Gold atoms create orderly places for iron and platinum atoms, then retreat to the periphery of the fuel cell, where they scrub carbon monoxide from fuel reactions. The tighter organization and cleaner reactions extend the cell's performance life. Credit: Sun Lab/Brown University

The researchers note that other metals may be substituted for gold as the best combinations are tested for combination and durability. (You can find more technical details in either the news item on Nanowerk or the news release at Brown University.)

Dexter Johnson at his Nanoclast blog (on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE] website) provides a contrasting opinion as to why fuel cells have not become popular in his March 9, 2012 posting,

One of the fundamental problems with fuel cells has been the cost of producing hydrogen. While hydrogen is, of course, the most abundant element, it attaches itself to other elements like nitrogen or fluorine, and perhaps most ubiquitously to oxygen to create the water molecule. The process used to separate hydrogen out into hydrogen gas for powering fuel cells now relies on electricity produced from fossil fuels, negating some of the potential environmental benefits. So in the last few years, a new line of research has emerged that uses nanomaterials to imitate photosynthesis and break water down into hydrogen and oxygen thereby creating a more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method for producing hydrogen.

If you’re interested, Dexter goes on to describe some promising areas of research that mimic photosynthesis.

In that odd area where coincidences meet, the latest work that Dexter discusses is taking place in California, a major centre for the gold rush of the 1800s. As it turns out, British Columbia was also a major destination in the days of the gold rush.

Nanoparticle size doesn’t matter

Does size matter when regulating nanomaterials? As I’ve noted (more than once), I waffle on this issue. Earlier this week, I featured my thoughts on Health Canada’s definition of nanomaterial (Oct. 24, 2011)  and posted an interview with Dr. Andrew Maynard (Oct. 24, 2011) where he expressed reservations about basing nanomaterial regulations on definitions which rely on  nanoparticle size.

Hours after posting my thoughts and the interview with Andrew, I came across this Oct. 24, 2011 news item on Nanowerk titled, Nanoparticles and their size may not be big issues. From the news item,

If you’ve ever eaten from silverware or worn copper jewelry, you’ve been in a perfect storm in which nanoparticles were dropped into the environment, say scientists at the University of Oregon.

Since the emergence of nanotechnology, researchers, regulators and the public have been concerned that the potential toxicity of nano-sized products might threaten human health by way of environmental exposure.

Now, with the help of high-powered transmission electron microscopes, chemists captured never-before-seen views of miniscule metal nanoparticles naturally being created by silver articles such as wire, jewelry and eating utensils in contact with other surfaces. It turns out, researchers say, nanoparticles have been in contact with humans for a long, long time. [emphasis mine]

“Our findings show that nanoparticle ‘size’ may not be static, especially when particles are on surfaces. For this reason, we believe that environmental health and safety concerns should not be defined — or regulated — based upon size,” said James E. Hutchison, who holds the Lokey-Harrington Chair in Chemistry. [emphasis mine] “In addition, the generation of nanoparticles from objects that humans have contacted for millennia suggests that humans have been exposed to these nanoparticles throughout time. Rather than raise concern, I think this suggests that we would have already linked exposure to these materials to health hazards if there were any.”

This discussion is becoming quite interesting.

Nanoparticles in diesel pollution and honeybees

The honey bee collapse, more properly colony collapse disorder (CCD), has been news in North America and Europe  for quite some time. There are any number of reasons for the disorder being suggested. (As I understand the current thinking on this issue, the collapse is a consequence of a number of different factors.) Recently, scientists at the United Nations have suggested CCD is becoming a global problem. From a March 10, 2011 news article by Michael McCarthy for The Independent,

Declines in bee colonies date back to the mid 1960s in Europe, but have accelerated since 1998, while in North America, losses of colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years, says the report [Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators {a United Nations Environment Programme Emerging Issues Report}].

Now Chinese beekeepers have recently “faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses in both species”, the report says. And it has been reported elsewhere that some Chinese farmers have had to resort to pollinating fruit trees by hand because of the lack of insects.

Furthermore, a quarter of beekeepers in Japan “have recently been confronted with sudden losses of their bee colonies”, while in Africa, beekeepers along the Egyptian Nile have been reporting signs of “colony collapse disorder” – although to date there are no other confirmed reports from the rest of the continent.

The report lists a number of factors which may be coming together to cause the decline and they include:

* Habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees;

* Some insecticides, including the so-called “systemic” insecticides which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows and be taken in by bees in nectar and pollen;

* Parasites and pests, such as the well-known Varroa mite;

* Air pollution, which may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food – scents that could travel more than 800 metres in the 1800s now reach less than 200 metres from a plant.

Here’s one more possibility: scientists from the University of Southampton are suggesting nanoparticles in diesel fuel may be a contributing factor in CCD. From the Oct. 7, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Professor Guy Poppy, an ecologist, Dr Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist, and their team from the University of Southampton believe that minuscule particles, or ‘nanoparticles’, emitted from diesel engines could be affecting bees’ brains and damaging their inbuilt ‘sat-navs’. They believe this may stop worker bees finding their way back to the hive.

The team is also investigating the possibility that nanoparticles are one of a number of stress factors that could lead to a tipping point in bee health, which in turn could contribute to bee colony collapse.

“Diesel road-traffic is increasing in the UK and research from the US has shown that nanoparticles found in its fumes can be detrimental to the brains of animals when they are exposed to large doses. We want to find out if bees are affected in the same way – and answer the question of why bees aren’t finding their way back to the hive when they leave to find food,” explains Professor Poppy.

The team from the University of Southampton, including biologists, nanotechnology researchers and ecologists will test the behavioural and neurological changes in honey bees, after exposure to diesel nanoparticles.

If I understand this correctly, the nanoparticles have not been added to the diesel fuel; they are a by-product of its use, which means we’ve been emitting diesel fuel nanoparticles for quite some time.

In any event, having a number of contributing factors for CCD suggests that a comprehensive strategy will be needed to solve the problems. In short, international cooperation will be required to ban chemicals, change habitat use, etc.

Brain injuries in fish and nanoparticles?

I would have liked more details about the fish and how nanoparticles cause brain injuries. Here’s an excerpt from the Sept.19, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at the University of Plymouth have shown, for the first time in an animal, that nanoparticles have a detrimental effect on the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.

They subjected rainbow trout to titanium oxide [or titanium dioxide as it's sometimes called] nanoparticles which are widely used as a whitening agent in many products including paints, some personal care products, and with applications being considered for the food industry. They found that the particles caused vacuoles (holes) to form in parts of the brain and for nerve cells in the brain to die. Although some effects of nanoparticles have been shown previously in cell cultures and other in vitro systems this is the first time it has been confirmed in a live vertebrate.

I have a number of questions after reading this (and the rest of the news item).

  • The statement is that nanoparticles cause brain injury in fish but the researchers mention titanium di/oxide nanoparticles only.  Did they test other nanoparticles as well?
  • How did they conduct the tests?
  • Did the fish ingest titanium di/oxide from the water? From their food? From both?
  • What concentrations were they exposed to?
  • Were they in an environment similar to what they’d experience naturally? Or were they in special tanks?

Apparently the results are being presented in London at the “6th International meeting on the Environmental Effects on Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials” (21st – 23rd September [2011]) at the Royal Society.

Using an incendiary headline (Nanoparticles cause brain injury in fish) for your news release is certainly an attention getter. I trust the research team (led by Professor Richard Handy of the Plymouth University Ecotoxicology Research and Innovation Centre’s Environmenal nanoscience and nanotoxicology team) can back up this statement with data and that it will be made available to a broader audience than the meeting attendees.

RTI and nanotechnology regulation

This is a classic public relations ploy: RTI is hosting a workshop of experts to discuss nanotechnology regulation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on May 4, 2011. From the April 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Leading experts will gather at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., May 4 to discuss the challenges of regulating nanotechnologies.

The policy forum, titled Nanotechnology: the Huge Challenge of Regulating Tiny Technologies, will bring together thought leaders who represent public, private and academic communities to discuss the issues, concerns and public policies needed to maximize the benefits of this emerging technology while minimizing the risks and encouraging further development and scientific exploration.

The event, held from 9 to 10:30 a.m., is being hosted by RTI International. Speakers include Michele Ostraat, Ph.D. senior director of the Center for Aerosol and Nanomaterials Engineering at RTI; Sally Tinkle, Ph.D., deputy director, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office; Jim Alwood, Toxic Substances Control Act Nanotechnology Coordinator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Cole Matson, Ph.D., executive director at the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology at Duke University.

RTI (trade name for Research Triangle Institute) is not a speaker’s agency as you might have thought after reading this item. From RTI’s About page,

RTI International is one of the world’s leading research institutes, dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. Our staff of more than 2,800 provides research and technical services to governments and businesses in more than 40 countries in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, international development, economic and social policy, energy and the environment, and laboratory testing and chemical analysis.

This is really quite well done. It’s being held at an impressive venue, the National Press Club, which associates this event with journalism in a subtle way. Three of the speakers are impressive due to their reputations and association with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Duke University, respectively. Additionally, someone from RTI is moderating the event and one of their senior directors is a speaker so the event is wrapped within the RTI brand. On a personal note, my hat’s off to whoever organized this panel for managing to get gender parity. That can be tough to achieve when it’s a science-related topic.

If you’re curious about the event you can read more about it here at RTI’s website.