Research investigates how nanoplastics can move up the food chain

Plastic pollution is a global concern. In the environment, mismanaged plastics break down into smaller pieces known as microplastics (less than 5 millimetre in size) and sub-micron plastics (less than 1 micrometre in size). The latter is thought to be so small they can pass through physiological barriers and enter organisms.

Whether, and to what extent, sub-micron plastics can penetrate organisms’ tissues and transfer up the food chain has not yet been thoroughly investigated. Until now.

Testing for polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride

In a new study from the University of Eastern Finland, researchers have sought to find out how sub-micron plastic particles are taken up by plants from the soil and transferred into links of the food chain.

To do so, the researchers developed a novel, metallic fingerprint-based technique to detect and measure nanoplastics in organisms. In this study, published in NanoToday​, the team applied the technology to a model food chain containing of three trophic levels.

They employed lettuce as a primary producer, black soldier fly larvae as a primary consumer, and the insectivorous fish (roach) as a secondary consumer.

The plastic used in the study was waste commonly found in the environment, including polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride nanoplastics.

A potential health risk to humans

The lettuce in question was cultivated in soil contaminated with nanoplastics for a period of 14 days. From there, the crop was harvested and fed to the black soldier fly larvae, which is a source of protein in many countries. Once five days of feeding had passed, the insects were then fed to the fish – again, for a period of five days.

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