Plants can absorb plastic as well, finds study

Plant accumulation of nanoplastics can have direct ecological effects and implications for agricultural sustainability and food safety, say researchers

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 23 June 2020

It’s been long that plastic took over the world — making way into our oceans, national parks and inside marine and land animals.

Scientists have now come a step closer to discovering that the polymeric pollutant may not even spare plants: Nanoplastics particles, as small as a protein or a virus, can accumulate in plants and have adverse ecological effects, according to a study published in Nature Nanotechnology. 

A group of researchers exposed Arabidopsis thaliana — a type of weed — to plastics smaller than 100 nanometres. The team then studied how far the plastic travelled into the plants, as well as its impact on the plant’s biology and genetics.

The plant was grown in two different soil mediums with “differently charged, fluorescently labeled nanoplastics to assess plant weights, height, chlorophyll content and root growth”. It was then exposed to nanoplastic in amounts of 10, 50 and 100 parts per million as well as in a control group with no plastic.

The plant was then allowed to grow for about 10 days in a growth chamber. The researchers found that nanoplastics reduced the total biomass of model plants. That is, the plants exposed to nanoplastic were smaller and had shorter roots. This, in turn, compromised the nutritional value of the plant.

According to the researchers, as quoted by University of Massachusetts Amherst:

Our findings provide direct evidence that nanoplastics can accumulate in plants, depending on their surface charge. Plant accumulation of nanoplastics can have both direct ecological effects and implications for agricultural sustainability and food safety.

Until now, there had been no study linking nanoplastics to being internalised by terrestrial plants, according to Baoshan Xing, an environmental scientist at UMass Amherst's Stockbridge School of Agriculture and co-author of the study.

Xing added:

Our experiments have given us evidence of nanoplastics uptake and accumulation in plants in the laboratory at the tissue and molecular level using microscopic, molecular and genetic approaches. We have demonstrated this from root to shoot.

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