WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Even large amounts of manufactured nanoparticles, also known as Buckyballs, don't faze microscopic organisms that are charged with cleaning up the environment, according to Purdue University researchers.
In the first published study to examine Buckyball toxicity on microbes that break down organic substances in wastewater, the scientists used an amount of the nanoparticles on the microbes that was equivalent to pouring 10 pounds of talcum powder on a person. Because high amounts of even normally safe compounds, such as talcum powder, can be toxic, the microbes' resiliency to high Buckyball levels was an important finding, the Purdue investigators said.
The experiment on Buckyballs, which are carbon molecules C60, also led the scientists to develop a better method to determine the impact of nanoparticles on the microbial community.
"It's important to look at the entire microbial community when nanomaterials are introduced because the microbes are all interdependent for survival and growth," said Leila Nyberg, a doctoral student in the School of Civil Engineering and the study's lead author. "If we see a minor change in these microorganisms it could negatively impact ecosystems."
The microbes used in the study live without oxygen and also exist in subsurface soil and the stomachs of ruminant animals, such as cows and goats, where they aid digestion.
"We found no effect by any amount of C60 on the structure or the function of the microbial community over a short time," Nyberg said. "Based on what we know about the properties of C60, this is a realistic model of what would happen if high concentrations of nanoparticles were released into the environment."
The third naturally occurring pure carbon molecule known, Buckyballs are nano-sized, multiple-sided structures that look like soccer balls.
Nyberg and her colleagues Ron Turco and Larry Nies, professors of agronomy and ci
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