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A team of scientists used scallops to analyse the effects of plastic nanoparticles on marine organisms.

Marine organisms could gather billions of plastic nanoparticles in a few hours

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Friday, December 07, 2018, 02:40 (GMT + 9)

A study has determined that it takes a matter of hours for billions of minute plastic nanoparticles to become embedded throughout the major organs of a marine organism.

The research, led by the University of Plymouth, examined the uptake of nanoparticles by a commercially important mollusc, the great scallop (Pecten maximus). 

The researchers point out that after six hours exposure in the laboratory, billions of particles measuring 250nm (around 0.00025mm) had accumulated within the scallop’s intestines.

A scan showing plastic nanoparticles accumulated within the scallop's gills (GI), kidney (K), gonad (GO), intestine (I), hepatopancreas (HP) and muscle (M). Credit: University of Plymouth 

However, considerably more even smaller particles measuring 20nm (0.00002mm) had become dispersed throughout the body including the kidney, gill, muscle and other organs.

“For this experiment, we needed to develop an entirely novel scientific approach. We made nanoparticles of plastic in our laboratories and incorporated a label so that we could trace the particles in the body of the scallop at environmentally relevant concentrations,” explained Dr Maya Al Sid Cheikh, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, who led the study. 

The scientist outlined that the results of the study show for the first time that nanoparticles can be rapidly taken up by a marine organism, and that in just a few hours they become distributed across most of the major organs.

For his part, Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, stated that they only exposed the scallops to nanoparticles for a few hours and, despite them being transferred to clean conditions, traces were still present several weeks later.

“Understanding the dynamics of nanoparticle uptake and release, as well as their distribution in body tissues, is essential if we are to understand any potential effects on organisms. A key next step will be to use this approach to guide research investigating any potential effects of nanoparticles and in particular to consider the consequences of longer term exposures,” Dr Thompson said.

Accepted for publication in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, the study also involved scientists from the Charles River Laboratories in Elphinstone, Scotland; the Institute Maurice Lamontagne in Canada; and Heriot-Watt University.
 
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