An international team of scientists has completed the first ever study into the potential impact of naturally occurring and man-made nanoparticles on the health of all types of the major living species of animals.
Conceived by researchers at the University of Plymouth, as part of the EU Nanofase project, the study assessed how the guts of species from honey bees to humans could protect against the bioaccumulation and toxicological effects of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) found within the environment.
It showed that the digestive systems of many species have evolved to act as a barrier guarding against the absorption of potentially damaging particles.
However, invertebrates such as earthworms also have roving cells within their guts, which can take up ENMs and transfer them to the gut wall.
This represents an additional risk for many invertebrate species where the particles can be absorbed via these roving cells, with consequent effects on internal organs having the potential to cause lasting damage.
Fortunately, this process is not replicated in humans and other vertebrate animals, however there is still the potential for nanomaterials to have a negative impact through the food chain.
The study, published in the July edition of Environmental Science: Nano, involved scientists from the UK, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Portugal and focused on particles measuring up to 100 nanometres (around 1/10 millionth of a metre).
It combined existing and new research into species including insects and other invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals, as well as identifying knowledge gaps on reptiles and amphibians. The study provides the first comprehensive overview of how differences in gut structure can affect the impact of ENMs across the animal kingdom.