Tag Archives: nanotoxicity

Cute, adorable roundworms help measure nanoparticle toxicity

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing. Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Caption: Low-cost experiments to test the toxicity of nanomaterials focused on populations of roundworms. Rice University scientists were able to test 20 nanomaterials in a short time, and see their method as a way to determine which nanomaterials should undergo more extensive testing.
Credit: Zhong Lab/Rice University

Until now, ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ are not words I would have associated with worms of any kind or with Rice University, for that matter. It’s amazing what a single image can do, eh?

A Feb. 3, 2015 news item on Azonano describes how roundworms have been used in research investigating the toxicity of various kinds of nanoparticles,

The lowly roundworm is the star of an ambitious Rice University project to measure the toxicity of nanoparticles.

The low-cost, high-throughput study by Rice scientists Weiwei Zhong and Qilin Li measures the effects of many types of nanoparticles not only on individual organisms but also on entire populations.

A Feb. 2, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the research,

The Rice researchers tested 20 types of nanoparticles and determined that five, including the carbon-60 molecules (“buckyballs”) discovered at Rice in 1985, showed little to no toxicity.

Others were moderately or highly toxic to Caenorhabditis elegans, several generations of which the researchers observed to see the particles’ effects on their health.

The results were published by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Sciences and Technology. They are also available on the researchers’ open-source website.

“Nanoparticles are basically new materials, and we don’t know much about what they will do to human health and the health of the ecosystem,” said Li, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. “There have been a lot of publications showing certain nanomaterials are more toxic than others. So before we make more products that incorporate these nanomaterials, it’s important that we understand we’re not putting anything toxic into the environment or into consumer products.

“The question is, How much cost can we bear?” she said. “It’s a long and expensive process to do a thorough toxicological study of any chemical, not just nanomaterials.” She said that due to the large variety of nanomaterials being produced at high speed and at such a large scale, there is “an urgent need for high-throughput screening techniques to prioritize which to study more extensively.”

Rice’s pilot study proves it is possible to gather a lot of toxicity data at low cost, said Zhong, an assistant professor of biosciences, who has performed extensive studies on C. elegans, particularly on their gene networks. Materials alone for each assay, including the worms and the bacteria they consumed and the culture media, cost about 50 cents, she said.

The researchers used four assays to see how worms react to nanoparticles: fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. The most sensitive assay of toxicity was fitness. In this test, the researchers mixed the nanoparticles in solutions with the bacteria that worms consume. Measuring how much bacteria they ate over time served as a measure of the worms’ “fitness.”

“If the worms’ health is affected by the nanoparticles, they reproduce less and eat less,” Zhong said. “In the fitness assay, we monitor the worms for a week. That is long enough for us to monitor toxicity effects accumulated through three generations of worms.” C. elegans has a life cycle of about three days, and since each can produce many offspring, a population that started at 50 would number more than 10,000 after a week. Such a large number of tested animals also enabled the fitness assay to be highly sensitive.

The researchers’ “QuantWorm” system allowed fast monitoring of worm fitness, movement, growth and lifespan. In fact, monitoring the worms was probably the least time-intensive part of the project. Each nanomaterial required specific preparation to make sure it was soluble and could be delivered to the worms along with the bacteria. The chemical properties of each nanomaterial also needed to be characterized in detail.

The researchers studied a representative sampling of three classes of nanoparticles: metal, metal oxides and carbon-based. “We did not do polymeric nanoparticles because the type of polymers you can possibly have is endless,” Li explained.

They examined the toxicity of each nanoparticle at four concentrations. Their results showed C-60 fullerenes, fullerol (a fullerene derivative), titanium dioxide, titanium dioxide-decorated nanotubes and cerium dioxide were the least damaging to worm populations.

Their “fitness” assay confirmed dose-dependent toxicity for carbon black, single- and multiwalled carbon nanotubes, graphene, graphene oxide, gold nanoparticles and fumed silicon dioxide.

They also determined the degree to which surface chemistry affected the toxicity of some particles. While amine-functionalized multiwalled nanotubes proved highly toxic, hydroxylated nanotubes had the least toxicity, with significant differences in fitness, body length and lifespan.

A complete and interactive toxicity chart for all of the tested materials is available online.

Zhong said the method could prove its worth as a rapid way for drug or other companies to narrow the range of nanoparticles they wish to put through more expensive, dedicated toxicology testing.

“Next, we hope to add environmental variables to the assays, for example, to mimic ultraviolet exposure or river water conditions in the solution to see how they affect toxicity,” she said. “We also want to study the biological mechanism by which some particles are toxic to worms.”

Here’s a citation for the paper and links to the paper and to the researchers’ website,

A multi-endpoint, high-throughput study of nanomaterial toxicity in Caenorhabditis elegans by Sang-Kyu Jung, Xiaolei Qu, Boanerges Aleman-Meza, Tianxiao Wang, Celeste Riepe, Zheng Liu, Qilin Li, and Weiwei Zhong. Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/es5056462 Publication Date (Web): January 22, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

Nanomaterial effects on C. elegans

Home | Download | Tutorial | About

This heat map indicates whether a measurement for the nanomaterial-exposed worms is higher (yellow), or lower (blue) than the control worms. Black indicates no effects from nanomaterial exposure.

Clicking on colored blocks to see detailed experimental data.

The published paper is open access but you need an American Chemical Society site registration to access it. The researchers’ site is open access.

Two-organ tests (body-on-a-chip) show liver damage possible from nanoparticles

This is the first time I’ve seen testing of two organs for possible adverse effects from nanoparticles. In this case, the researchers were especially interested in the liver. From an Aug. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Nanoparticles in food, sunscreen and other everyday products have many benefits. But Cornell [University] biomedical scientists are finding that at certain doses, the particles might cause human organ damage.

A recently published study in Lab on a Chip by the Royal Society of Chemistry and led by senior research associate Mandy Esch shows that nanoparticles injure liver cells when they are in microfluidic devices designed to mimic organs of the human body. The injury was worse when tested in two-organ systems, as opposed to single organs – potentially raising concerns for humans and animals.

Anne Ju’s Aug. 11, 2014 article for Cornell University’s Chronicle describes the motivation for this work and the research itself in more detail,

“We are looking at the effects of what are considered to be harmless nanoparticles in humans,” Esch said. “These particles are not necessarily lethal, but … are there other consequences? We’re looking at the non-lethal consequences.”

She used 50-nanometer carboxylated polystyrene nanoparticles, found in some animal food sources and considered model inert particles. Shuler’s lab specializes in “body-on-a-chip” microfluidics, which are engineered chips with carved compartments that contain cell cultures to represent the chemistry of individual organs.

In Esch’s experiment, she made a human intestinal compartment, a liver compartment and a compartment to represent surrounding tissues in the body. She then observed the effects of fluorescently labeled nanoparticles as they traveled through the system.

Esch found that both single nanoparticles as well as small clusters crossed the gastrointestinal barrier and reached liver cells, and the liver cells released an enzyme called aspartate transaminase, known to be released during cell death or damage.

It’s unclear exactly what damage is occurring or why, but the results indicate that the nanoparticles must be undergoing changes as they cross the gastrointestinal barrier, and that these alterations may change their toxic potential, Esch said. Long-term consequences for organs in proximity could be a concern, she said.

“The motivation behind this study was twofold: one, to show that multi-organ, in vitro systems give us more information when testing for the interaction of a substance with the human body, and two … to look at nanoparticles because they have a huge potential for medicine, yet adverse effects have not been studied in detail yet,” Esch said.

Mary Macleod’s July 3, 2014 article for Chemistry World features a diagram of the two-organ system and more technical details about the research,

Schematic of the two-organ system [downloaded from http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/07/nanoparticle-liver-gastrointestinal-tract-microfluidic-chip]

Schematic of the two-organ system [downloaded from http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/07/nanoparticle-liver-gastrointestinal-tract-microfluidic-chip]

HepG2/C3A cells were used to represent the liver, with the intestinal cell co-culture consisting of enterocytes (Caco-2) and mucin-producing (HT29-MTX) cells. Carboxylated polystyrene nanoparticles were fluorescently labelled so their movement between the chambers could be tracked. Levels of aspartate transaminase, a cytosolic enzyme released into the culture medium upon cell death, were measured to give an indication of liver damage.

The study saw that single nanoparticles and smaller nanoparticle aggregates were able to cross the GI barrier and reach the liver cells. The increased zeta potentials of these nanoparticles suggest that crossing the barrier may raise their toxic potential. However, larger nanoparticles, which interact with cell membranes and aggregate into clusters, were stopped much more effectively by the GI tract barrier.

The gastrointestinal tract is an important barrier preventing ingested substances crossing into systemic circulation. Initial results indicate that soluble mediators released upon low-level injury to liver cells may enhance the initial injury by damaging the cells which form the GI tract. These adverse effects were not seen in conventional single-organ tests.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Body-on-a-chip simulation with gastrointestinal tract and liver tissues suggests that ingested nanoparticles have the potential to cause liver injury by Mandy B. Esch, Gretchen J. Mahler, Tracy Stokol, and Michael L. Shuler. Lab Chip, 2014,14, 3081-3092 DOI: 10.1039/C4LC00371C First published online 27 Jun 2014

This paper is open access until Aug. 12, 2014.

While this research is deeply concerning, it should be noted the researchers are being very careful in their conclusions as per Ju’s article, “It’s unclear exactly what damage is occurring or why, but the results indicate that the nanoparticles must be undergoing changes as they cross the gastrointestinal barrier, and that these alterations may change their toxic potential … Long-term consequences for organs in proximity could be a concern … .”

Reducing animal testing for nanotoxicity—PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) presentation at NanoTox 2014

Writing about nanotechnology can lead you in many different directions such as the news about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and its poster presentation at the NanoTox 2014 conference being held in Antalya, Turkey from April 23 – 26, 2014. From the April 22, 2014 PETA news release on EurekAlert,

PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.’s nanotechnology expert will present a poster titled “A tiered-testing strategy for nanomaterial hazard assessment” at the 7th International Nanotoxicology Congress [NanoTox 2014] to be held April 23-26, 2014, in Antalya, Turkey.

Dr. Monita Sharma will outline a strategy consistent with the 2007 report from the US National Academy of Sciences, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” which recommends use of non-animal methods involving human cells and cell lines for mechanistic pathway–based toxicity studies.

Based on the current literature, the proposed strategy includes thorough characterization of nanomaterials as manufactured, as intended for use, and as present in the final biological system; assessment using multiple in silico and in vitro model systems, including high-throughput screening (HTS) assays and 3D systems; and data sharing among researchers from government, academia, and industry through web-based tools, such as the Nanomaterial Registry and NanoHUB

Implementation of the proposed strategy will generate meaningful information on nanomaterial properties and their interaction with biological systems. It is cost-effective, reduces animal use, and can be applied for assessing risk and making intelligent regulatory decisions regarding the use and disposal of nanomaterials.

PETA’s International Science Consortium has recently launched a nanotechnology webpage which provides a good overview of the basics and, as one would expect from PETA, a discussion of relevant strategies that eliminate the use of animals in nanotoxicity assessment,

What is nano?

The concept of fabricating materials at an atomic scale was introduced in 1959 by physicist Richard Feynman in his talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The term “nano” originates from the Greek word for “dwarf,” which represents the very essence of nanomaterials. In the International System of Units, the prefix “nano” means one-billionth, or 10-9; therefore, one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, which is smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper or a strand of hair.  …

Are there different kinds of nano?

The possibility of controling biological processes using custom-synthesized materials at the nanoscale has intrigued researchers from different scientific fields. With the ever increasing sophistication of nanomaterial synthesis, there has been an exponential increase in the number and type of nanomaterials available or that can be custom synthesized. Table 1 lists some of the nanomaterials that are currently available.


Oddly, given the question ‘Are there different kinds of nano?’, there’s no mention of nanobots.  Still it’s understandable that they’d focus on nanomaterials which are, as far as I know, the only ‘nano’ anything tested for toxicity. On that note, PETA’s Nanotechnology page offers this revelatory listing (scroll down about 3/4 of the way),

The following are some of the web-based tools being used by nanotoxicologists and material scientists:

Getting back to the NanoTox conference being held now in Antalya, I noticed a couple of familiar names on the list of keynote speakers (scroll down about 15% of the way), Kostas Kostarelos (last mentioned in a Feb. 28, 2014 posting about scientific publishing and impact factors’ scroll down about 1/2 way) and Mark Wiesner (last mentioned in a Nov. 13, 2013 posting about a major grant for one of his projects).

Ecotoxicology and environmental fate of manufactured nanomaterials—testing guidelines from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released guidelines for testing manufactured nanomaterials according to a March 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

As part of its Programme on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials, and in particular work on the testing and assessment of manufactured nanomaterials, OECD initiated a series of expert meetings to improve the applicability of the OECD Test Guidelines to nanomaterials. With this in mind, the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials agreed to address the ecotoxicology and environmental fate of manufactured nanomaterials.

The OECD Expert Meeting on Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate took place on 29th-31st January 2013 in Berlin, Federal Press Office. The event was hosted by the German delegation and funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) as well as the United States Environment Protection Agency (US EPA).

Three documents were published one of which being a preview,

The OECD expert meeting on ecotoxicology and environmental fate — Towards the development of improved OECD guidelines for the testing of nanomaterials by Dana Kühnel and Carmen Nickel. Science of The Total Environment Volume 472, 15 February 2014, Pages 347–353 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.055

This document is open access.

The report itself,

Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials. ENV/JM/MONO(2014)1

TEST GUIDELINES Expert Meeting Report
Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 40

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate of Manufactured Nanomaterials: Test Guidelines

There’s an addendum which includes the presentations made at the meeting (you can find both the report, proper, and the addendum on this page scroll to report no. 40),



Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 40
Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fate of Manufactured Nanomaterials:
Test Guidelines.

As it can get a little tricky accessing OECD documents, I’ve tried to give a couple different links and as much identifying information as possible. Good luck!

Danish scientists provide insights into celllular response to silver nanoparticles

The conclusions are concerning but the scientists at the University of Southern Denmark are careful to note that this research on silver nanopartices was performed in a laboratory setting which does not necessarily predict what might happen under real life conditions.

As for the research itself, a Feb. 28, 2014 news item on Azonano has this to say,

Endocrine disrupters are not the only worrying chemicals that ordinary consumers are exposed to in everyday life. Also nanoparticles of silver, found in e.g. dietary supplements, cosmetics and food packaging, now worry scientists. A new study from the University of Southern Denmark shows that nano-silver can penetrate our cells and cause damage.

Silver has an antibacterial effect and therefore the food and cosmetic industry often coat their products with silver nanoparticles. Nano-silver can be found in e.g. drinking bottles, cosmetics, band aids, toothbrushes, running socks, refrigerators, washing machines and food packagings.

“Silver as a metal does not pose any danger, but when you break it down to nano-sizes, the particles become small enough to penetrate a cell wall. If nano-silver enters a human cell, it can cause changes in the cell”, explain Associate Professor Frank Kjeldsen and PhD Thiago Verano-Braga, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Southern Denmark.

A Feb. 27, 2014 University of Southern Denmark news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

The researchers examined human intestinal cells, as they consider these to be most likely to come into contact with nano-silver, ingested with food.

“We can confirm that nano-silver leads to the formation of harmful, so called free radicals in cells. We can also see that there are changes in the form and amount of proteins. This worries us”, say Frank Kjeldsen and Thiago Verano-Braga.

A large number of serious diseases are characterized by the fact that there is an overproduction of free radicals in cells. This applies to cancer and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Kjeldsen and Verano-Braga emphasizes that their research is conducted on human cells in a laboratory, not based on living people. They also point out that they do not know how large a dose of nano-silver, a person must be exposed to for the emergence of cellular changes.

“We don’t know how much is needed, so we cannot conclude that nano-silver can make you sick. But we can say that we must be very cautious and worried when we see an overproduction of free radicals in human cells”, they say.

Nano-silver is also sold as a dietary supplement, promising to have an antibacterial, anti-flu and cancer-inhibatory effect. The nano-silver should also help against low blood counts and bad skin. In the EU, the marketing of dietary supplements and foods with claims to have medical effects is not allowed. But the nano-silver is easy to find and buy online.

In the wake of the SDU-research, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration now warns against taking dietary supplements with nano-silver.

“The recent research strongly suggests that it can be dangerous”, says Søren Langkilde from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR).

The researchers supplied this image to illustrate the abstract for their paper (link and citation to follow),

Courtesy University of Southern Denmark

Courtesy University of Southern Denmark

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Insights into the Cellular Response Triggered by Silver Nanoparticles Using Quantitative Proteomics by Thiago Verano-Braga, Rona Miethling-Graff, Katarzyna Wojdyla, Adelina Rogowska-Wrzesinska, Jonathan R. Brewer, Helmut Erdmann, and Frank Kjeldsen. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn4050744 Publication Date (Web): February 10, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Silver ions in the environment

Earlier this week (Feb. 24, 2014), I published a post featuring Dr. Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center in an introductory video describing seven surprising facts about silver nanoparticles. For those who want to delve more deeply, there’s a Feb. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describing some Swiss research into silver nanoparticles and ions in aquatic environments,

It has long been known that, in the form of free ions, silver particles can be highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Yet to this day, there is a lack of detailed knowledge about the doses required to trigger a response and how the organisms deal with this kind of stress. To learn more about the cellular processes that occur in the cells, scientists from the Aquatic Research Institute, Eawag [Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology], subjected algae to a range of silver concentrations.

In the past, silver mostly found its way into the environment in the vicinity of silver mines or via wastewater [emphasis mine] emanating from the photo industry. More recently, silver nanoparticles have become commonplace in many applications – as ingredients in cosmetics, food packaging, disinfectants, and functional clothing. Though a recent study conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation revealed that the bulk of silver nanoparticles is retained in wastewater treatment plants, only little is known about the persistence and the impact of the residual nano-silver in the environment.

The Feb. 25, 2014 Eawag media release, which originated the news item, describes the research in further detail,

Smitha Pillai from the Eawag Department of Environmental Toxicology and her colleagues from EPF Lausanne and ETH Zürich studied the impact of various concentrations of waterborne silver ions on the cells of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Silver is chemically very similar to copper, an essential metal due to its importance in several enzymes. Because of that, silver can exploit the cells’ copper transport mechanisms and sneak into them undercover. This explains why, already after a short time, concentrations of silver in the intracellular fluid can reach up to one thousand times those in the surrounding environment.

A prompt response

Because silver damages key enzymes involved in energy metabolism, even low concentrations can cut photosynthesis and growth rates by a half in just 15 minutes. Over the same time period, the researchers also detected changes in the activity of about 1000 other genes and proteins, which they interpreted as a response to the stressor – an attempt to repair silver-induced damage. At low concentrations, the cells’ photosynthesis apparatus recovered within five hours, and recovery mechanisms were sufficient to deal with all but the highest concentrations tested.

A number of unanswered questions

At first glance, the results are reassuring because the silver concentrations that the algae are subject to in the environment are rarely as high as those applied in the lab, which allows them to recover quickly – at least externally. But the experiments also showed that even low silver concentrations have a significant effect on intracellular processes and that the algae divert their energy to repairing damage incurred. This can pose a problem when other stressors act in parallel, such as increased UV-radiation or other chemical compounds. Moreover, it remains unknown to this day whether the cells have an active mechanism to shuttle out the silver. Lacking such a mechanism, the silver could have adverse effects on higher organisms, given that algae are at the bottom of the food chain.

You can find the researchers’ paper here,

Linking toxicity and adaptive responses across the transcriptome, proteome, and phenotype of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii exposed to silver by Smitha Pillai, Renata Behra, Holger Nestler, Marc J.-F. Suter, Laura Sigg, and Kristin Schirmer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – early edition 18.February 2014, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1319388111

The paper is available through the PNAS open access option.

I have published a number of pieces about aquatic enviornments and wastewater and nanotechnology-enabled products as useful for remediation efforts and as a source of pollution. Here’s a Feb. 28, 2013 posting where I contrasted two pieces of research on silver nanoparticles. The first was research in an aquatic environment and the other concerned wastewater.

Human immune system and nanotoxicology in Québec (Canada)

At this point it’s starting to seem like there are thousands and thousands of nanotoxicology studies so the announcement of a new study based in Québec (Canada) didn’t immediately cause excitement  until I caught sight of the word ‘inflammation” which casts a newish light on the topic. From the Dec. 4, 2013 news item on Azonano,

… Professor Girard [Professor Denis Girard INRS–Institut Armand-Frappier Research Centre] will focus on the effects of NPs [nanoparticles] on human immune system cells (eosinophils) that play a key role in inflammation.

“Several studies on NPs have examined how tissues react in contact with these tiny foreign bodies,” said Girard. “Researchers have found that eosinophils flock to the contact site, but they have not examined the phenomenon in greater detail.” To further investigate why eosinophils come into contact with NPs and the role they play, protocols require expertise in both nanotoxicology and immunology, which is rare.

The Nov. 28, 2013 INRS [Institut national de la recherche scientifique] Université news release by Stéphanie Thibault, which originated the news item, delves into the issue of inflammatory responses,

According to Professor Girard, understanding the inflammatory response is currently a priority in the field of nanotoxicology. For a number of years, researchers have been observing links between exposure to NPs and asthmatic symptoms in some animals. Does the human body undergo similar inflammation upon contact with NPs? In the absence of any standards for workers, it’s best to take a closer look, insists Girard. “At this time, nanoparticles have not been properly identified and are often handled without protection. If they enter the body through the skin, respiratory tract, or even ingestion, we have no idea what happens next.” In his lab, a variety of approaches will help further understanding of how nanoparticles of different types and sizes interact. Cellular processes will be examined in detail.


At the rate at which NPs are being developed, Girard could be conducting systematic nanotoxicology studies for many years to come. “I will of course need the support of a strong team,” said Girard. “I already have one I am very proud of, and it will be expanded for the new project.” …

I gather there are going to be some jobs generated from this grant,

His research is being funded by Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), which will award him a renewable $300,000 grant for the next three years.

… The IRSST grant will be used to hire staff and student researchers.

While I have heard of the IRSST before,, the INRS is new to me. Here’s more from the INRS English language homepage,

INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique) is one of Canada’s top universities in terms of research intensity (funding per faculty member). It brings together 150 professors, over 700 graduate and postgraduate students, and a hundred postdoctoral researchers at four centers in Montreal, Québec City, Laval, and Varennes. Conducting applied and fundamental research essential to the advancement of science in Quebec and around the world, our research teams plays a critical role in finding solutions to problems facing our society. Founded in 1969, INRS is one of the nine establishments that make up the Université du Québec network.


“The Institute is dedicated to fundamental and applied research, graduate studies, and the training of researchers. In keeping with its mission and objectives as a research university, the Institute specifically gears its activities towards Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development, as well as the transfer of knowledge and technology stemming from all its fields of study.” INRS letters patent, 1999

There you have it.

2014 Internatonal NanoSafety Congress in Iran extends deadline for submissions to Dec. 15, 2013

A Nov. 11, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights the 2014 Iran International NanoSafety Congress and the deadline extension,

The deadline for paper submission to Iran International Nanosafety Congress was extended to 15 December 2013.
Iran Nanosafety Congress will be held in Tehran University of Medical Sciences in association with Iran Nanosafety Network (INSN) of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council on 19-20 February [2014] to guarantee the safe and continuous development of nanotechnology, give correct information about nanosafety, identify active bodies in the field of nanosaftey and develop cooperation with other countries.
The scope of the congress is as follows:
– Exposure assessment
– Methodology: characterization, detection, and monitoring
– Occupational and environmental interactions
– Toxicology
– Ecotoxicology and life cycle analysis
– Standardization and regulations

The homepage for the Iran International NanoSafety Congress provides more information,

Dear Colleagues,
On behalf of the scientific and executive committees, it is our great pleasure to cordially invite you to attend the Iran NanoSafety Congress 2014 (INSC 2014) which will be held at the Ghods Auditorium in Tehran University of Medical Sciences, on 19-20 February 2014.

This Congress is jointly organized by the Iran Nanosafety Network (INSN) of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC) and Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS), supported by Iran Nanohealth Committee of Food & Drug Organization (INC), Iranian Environmental Mutagen Society (IrEMS) and Iranian Society of Nanomedicine (ISNM).  The “Iran NanoSafety Congress 2014″ aims to cover all safety aspects of nanomaterials in human and environment. This Congress is focused on novel approaches and technologies being used to properly assess the safety, toxicity, and risk of nanomaterial for occupational and environmental health. The scientific program will consist of keynote/distinguished lectures, symposia, workshops, discussion panels and poster sessions. This congress will provide attendees good opportunities to meet scientists from all over the world to exchange the ideas and to launch national and international collaborations in different aspects of  Nanosafety. The organizing committee is also planning a variety of unique social programs to provide the chance for participants to enjoy from fascinating Iranian culture and warm spirit of friendship.

We look forward to welcoming you and your active participation in the INSC 2014 in Tehran, I.R. Iran.

Good luck with getting your submission in on time.

Toxicity, nanoparticles, soil, and Europe’s NANO-ECOTOXICITY Project

I have featured pieces on nanoparticles, toxicity, and soil in the past (this Aug. 15, 2011 posting about Duke University’s mesocosm project is probably the most relevant) but this study is the first one I’ve seen focusing on earthworms. From the Sept. 23, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

From the clothes and make-up we wear to the electronic devices we use every day, nanotechnology is becoming ubiquitous. But while industry has mastered the production of such materials, little is known about their fate once their service life comes to an end. The NANO-ECOTOXICITY project looked into their impact on soil organisms.

The Sept. 23, 2013 CORDIS (European Commission Community Research and Development Information Service) news release, which originated the new item, offers a Q&A (Question and Answer) with the project research leader,

Dr Maria Diez-Ortiz, research leader of the NANO-ECOTOXICITY project, tells us about her research findings and how she expects them to help increase knowledge and shape tools allowing for standard environmental hazard and risk-assessment methodologies.

What is the background of the NANO-ECOTOXICITY project?

Nanotechnology is based on the idea that, by engineering the size and shape of materials at the scale of atoms, i.e. nanometres (nm), distinct optical, electronic, or magnetic properties can be tuned to produce novel properties of commercial value. However, there is an obvious concern that such novel properties may also lead to novel behaviour when interacting with biological organisms, and thus to potentially novel toxic effects.

Since nanoparticles (NPs) are similar in size to viruses, their uptake by and transport through tissues are based on mechanisms distinct from those of molecular uptake and transport. Therefore, there is concern that standard toxicological tests may not be applicable or reliable in relation to NPs, hence compromising current risk-assessment procedures.

The majority of research on nano-safety in the environment has so far focused on the aquatic environment. Current research on environmental fate, however, indicates that soils will become the biggest environmental sink for nanoparticles. Following their entry into liquid waste streams, nanoparticles will pass through wastewater-treatment. processes, ending up in waste sludge which may accumulate in the agricultural land where this sludge is often applied.

What are the main objectives of the project?

This project deals with the toxicokinetics – that is, the rate at which a chemical enters a body and affects it – of metal nanoparticles coming into contact with soil-dwelling organisms. The aim is to determine NPs’ fate and effects in terrestrial ecosystems by means of case studies with zinc oxide and silver NPs, which represent different fate kinetics.

The project’s main objectives are to assess the toxicity of metal nanoparticles in soils in the short and long term; the main route of exposure for earthworms and whether it differs from those of ionic metals; and, finally, the influence of the exposure media on metal nanoparticle toxicity.

What is new or innovative about the project and the way it is addressing these issues?

We have been running a long-term study where soils with AgNP [silver nanoparticles] were stored and left to age for up to a year; their toxicity was tested at the start and after three, seven and 12 months of ageing. The results showed that silver toxicity increased over time, meaning that short-term standard toxicity tests may underestimate the environmental risk of silver nanoparticles.

In parallel, we found that organisms exposed to silver nanoparticles in short-term studies accumulated higher silver concentrations than organisms that were exposed to the same mass concentration of ionic silver. However, these NP exposed organisms actually suffered lower toxic effects. This observation contradicts the prevailing assumption in toxicology that the internalised concentration is directly related to chemical concentration at the target site and hence to its toxicity. This observation creates a new paradigm for nano-ecotoxicology.

What is not yet known is whether the accumulated NP metal may in the longer-term ultimately become toxic (e.g. through dissolution and ion release) in cells and tissues where AgNPs may be stored. Should this occur, the high concentrations accumulated may ultimately result in greater long-term toxicity for NPs than for ionic forms. This may reveal these accumulated NPs as internalised ‘time bombs’ relevant to long-term effects and toxicity.

However, it has to be borne in mind that the redicted environmental concentrations resulting from current use of nanoparticles (e.g. results from EU projects like NANOFATE2) are many times smaller than those used in these studies, meaning that such accumulations of nanoparticle-related silver are unlikely to occur in the environment or, ultimately, in humans.

What difficulties did you encounter and how did you solve them?

The main problems encountered relate to the tracking of nanoparticles inside the tissues and soils, as both are complex matrices. The analysis of the particles is a challenge in itself, even when in water, but to get information about their state in these matrices often requires unrealistic exposure concentrations (due to low detection limits of the highly specialised techniques used for analysis) or extraction of the particles from the matrices, which could potentially change the state of the particles.

In this project, I travelled to University of Kentucky to work with Jason Unrine and used gentle water-based extractions of soil samples immediately before analysing them using ‘Field-flow fractionation’ and ‘Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry’ to identify the state of nanoparticles in my aged soils.

To look at what form (speciation) of silver and zinc from the nanoparticle exposures could be found inside worms I collaborated with NANOFATE researchers at Cardiff University who fixed and thinly sectioned the worm tissues. I was lucky to be given the time to use specialist facilities like the UK’s Diamond Light Source synchrotron to investigate where and in what form the metals and potential nanoparticles could be found in these tissues.

The main challenge is that as soon as you take nanoparticles out of the manufacturers’ bottle they start changing, particularly when put into environments likes natural soils and waters, or even organisms. Therefore a lot of characterisation is needed during exposure to establish the state of the nanoparticles the organisms have been exposed to and how fast they are changing from pristine particles to dissolved ions, or particles with completely different surfaces.

Technical solutions to characterisation have been found during this short project, but this will remain a logistical challenge for many years to come as the analysis equipment is still very specialised and expensive and therefore not generally available.

What are the concrete results from the research so far?

The project has helped us draw various conclusions regarding the impact of NPs on the environment and how to assess them. First, we now know that soil acidity, or pH, influences the dissolution and toxicity of ZnO nanoparticles [zinc oxide].

Then, we found that toxicity of silver nanoparticles’ increases over time and that the particles’ coating affects their toxicity to soil invertebrates.

As previously mentioned, earthworms exposed to silver nanoparticles for 28 days accumulated higher silver concentrations than earthworms exposed to silver ions, without the excess silver from the nanoparticles having a toxic effect. [emphasis mine] Moreover, soil ingestion was identified as the main route of exposure to AgNP and ZnONP in earthworms.

How can industry and decision-makers ensure that nanomaterials do not impact our environment?

We hope that this project, and the larger EU project NANOFATE to which it is linked, will provide knowledge and tools enabling standard environmental-hazard and risk-assessment methodologies to be applied to engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) with just a few judicious modifications. The current systems and protocols for chemical risk assessment have been developed over decades, and where no novel toxic mechanisms exist, our results tend to say that nano fits in as long as we measure the right things and characterise realistic exposures properly.

Our research aims to determine the minimum methodological tweaks needed. So far everything indicates that the potential benefits from nanotechnology can be realised and managed safely alongside other chemicals. While we are fairly confident at this stage that ENPs impose no greater acute effects on important biological parameters – like reproduction – than their ionic forms, the NANO-ECOTOXICITY results demonstrate that we have some way to go before we can state loud and clear that we do not believe there is any novel low-level or long-term effect.

As for all chemicals, proving such a negative is impossible using short-term tests. We think the final conclusions by industry and regulators on safe use of nanoparticles should and will have to be made according to a ‘weight of evidence’ approach – proving there is a gap between predicted likely exposure levels and those levels seen to cause any effects or accumulations within ecosystem species.

What are the next topics for your research?

This project has finished but the next step for any other funding opportunity would be to address increasingly environmentally relevant exposure scenarios by analysing how nanoparticles modify in the environment and interact with living tissues and organisms at different trophic levels. I would like to investigate nanoparticle transformation and interactions in living tissues. To date, the studies that have identified this ‘excess’ accumulation of non-toxic metal loads in nanoparticleexposed organisms have only been short term.

Apart from the obviously increased food-chain transfer potential, is also not known whether, over the longer term, the accumulated NP-derived metal ultimately becomes toxic when present in tissues and cells. Such transformation and release of metal ions within tissues may ultimately result in greater longterm toxicity for NPs than for ionic forms.

Furthermore, I want to test exposures in a functioning model ecosystem including interspecific interactions and trophic transfer. Since interactions between biota and nanoparticles are relevant in natural soil systems, caution is needed when attempting to predict the ecological consequences of nanoparticles based on laboratory assays conducted with only a single species. In the presence of the full complement of biological components of soil systems, complex NPs may follow a range of pathways in which coatings may be removed and replaced with exudate materials. Studies to quantify the nature of these interactions are therefore needed to identify the fate, bioavailability and toxicity of realistic ‘non-pristine’ forms of NPs present in real soil environments.

New to me was the material about ageing silver nanoparticles and their increased toxicity over time. While this is an interesting piece of information it’s not necessarily all that useful. It seems even with their increased uptake compared to silver ions, silver nanoparticles (Diez-Ortiz doesn’t indicate whether or not * they tested variously aged silver nanoparticles) did not have toxic effects on the earthworms tested.

The NANO-ECOTOXICITY website doesn’t appear to exist anymore but you can find the NANOFATE (Nanoparticle Fate Assessment and Toxicity in the Environment) website here.

* ‘not’ removed to clarify meaning, Oct. 9, 2013. (Note: I had on Oct. 8, 2013 removed ‘not’ in a second place from the sentence in an attempt t o clarify the meaning and ended up not making any sense at all.) Please read Maria Diez-Ortiz in the Comments, as she clarifies matters in a way I could never hope to.