Nanoparticle Research Receives International Attention

By Veronique Masterson
Posted 6/27/11

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso, and his colleagues have received national and international attention for their research into the safety of nanoparticles in food.

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso. Photo: University Communications.Their report, “Interaction of Nanoparticles with Edible Plants and Their Possible Implications in the Food Chain,” was published in the March issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Since then, the report has been featured in the media, including CBS News online. The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal interviewed Gardea-Torresdey about the group’s findings.

He recently returned from South Korea and China, where he presented his research.

“It’s like a dream,” Gardea-Torresdey said. “I cannot believe it. It’s like getting the Nobel Prize.”

The UTEP team is learning more about nanoparticles and their possible impact on crops thanks to a $24 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, which funded a project through the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. Garda-Torresdey is a project co-investigator.

At 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, nanoparticles are extremely small portions of elements that cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are used in products that range from medicine to cosmetics, and could end up in the environment as part of nanoagriculture, which scientists say uses nanotechnology to help boost the productivity of plants for food and fuel. The risks associated with nanoparticles, such as toxicity, still are unclear and more research is needed.

“The work that Dr. Gardea-Torresdey and others are doing is proactive, before we have significant amounts of nanomaterials used in applications where it may lead to uptake by plants,” said Arturo A. Keller, Ph.D., associate director of the UC center. “However, it is important to know that there are these mechanisms of uptake and that nanomaterials can be found in different agricultural products, so that the regulatory agencies can be prepared. This research will help us be prepared to reduce the risks. We can also use this information to produce safer nanomaterials that pose little or no risk.”

Gardea-Torresdey’s team members include Maria Duarte-Gardea, Ph.D., chair of UTEP’s Department of Public Health Sciences; Jose R. Peralta-Videa, Ph.D., senior research specialist for the UTEP Department of Chemistry; and Cyren Rico and Sanghamitra Majumdar, doctoral students for the Department of Chemistry.

“Maybe all nanoparticles are toxic,” Majumdar said. “But if some of them are, we should not let them go to the environment.”

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