by Staff Writers
Lausanne, Switzerland (SPX) Feb 26, 2014
It has long been known that, in the form of free ions, silver particles can be highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Yet to this day, there is a lack of detailed knowledge about the doses required to trigger a response and how the organisms deal with this kind of stress. To learn more about the cellular processes that occur in the cells, scientists from the Aquatic Research Institute, Eawag, subjected algae to a range of silver concentrations.
In the past, silver mostly found its way into the environment in the vicinity of silver mines or via wastewater emanating from the photo industry. More recently, silver nanoparticles have become commonplace in many applications - as ingredients in cosmetics, food packaging, disinfectants, and functional clothing.
Though a recent study conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation revealed that the bulk of silver nanoparticles is retained in wastewater treatment plants, only little is known about the persistence and the impact of the residual nano-silver in the environment.
Infiltrating the energy metabolism undercover
Because of that, silver can exploit the cells' copper transport mechanisms and sneak into them undercover. This explains why, already after a short time, concentrations of silver in the intracellular fluid can reach up to one thousand times those in the surrounding environment.
A prompt response
At low concentrations, the cells' photosynthesis apparatus recovered within five hours, and recovery mechanisms were sufficient to deal with all but the highest concentrations tested.
A number of unanswered questions
This can pose a problem when other stressors act in parallel, such as increased UV-radiation or other chemical compounds. Moreover, it remains unknown to this day whether the cells have an active mechanism to shuttle out the silver. Lacking such a mechanism, the silver could have adverse effects on higher organisms, given that algae are at the bottom of the food chain.
Linking toxicity and adaptive responses across the transcriptome, proteome, and phenotype of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii exposed to silver Smitha Pillai, Renata Behra, Holger Nestler, Marc J.-F. Suter, Laura Sigg, Kristin Schirmer Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) - early edition 18.February 2014.
Eawag Department of Environmental Toxicology
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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