Environmentalists have warned for some time that micro and nanoplastics threaten marine life in the world’s oceans. But now scientists are concerned about the negative impacts of nanoplastics on terrestrial environments.
Baoshan Xing, an environmental scientist at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with collaborators from Shandong University, China, point out that until now there was no direct evidence that nanoplastics are internalized by land plants.
“Our findings provide direct evidence that nanoplastics can accumulate in plants, depending on their surface charge. Accumulation of nanoplastics in plants can have direct ecological effects and implications for agricultural sustainability and food security,” the researchers say in The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
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According to Xing, the widespread use and persistence of these materials in the environment results in an “enormous” amount of plastic waste.
“Our experiments have given us evidence of the uptake and accumulation of nanoplastics in plants in the laboratory at the tissue and molecular level using microscopic, molecular and genetic approaches. We have demonstrated this from root to bud,” he said in a statement.
For the study, the scientists cultivated Arabidopsis plants in soil mixed with differently labeled fluorescent nanoplastics to assess plant weight, height, chlorophyll content, and root growth. After seven weeks, they observed that biomass and plant height were lower in plants exposed to nanoplastics than in controls.
“Nanoplastics reduced the total biomass of model plants,” Xing explained. “They were smaller and the roots were much shorter. If the biomass is reduced, it is not good for the plant, the yield is low and the nutritional value of the crops can be compromised.”