The introduction of purified carbon nanotubes appears to have a beneficial effect on the early growth of wheatgrass, according to scientists. But in the presence of contaminants, those same nanotubes could do great harm.
The Rice University lab of chemist Andrew Barron grew wheatgrass in a hydroponic garden to test the potential toxicity of nanoparticles on the plant. To their surprise, they found one type of particle dispersed in water helped the plant grow bigger and faster.
They suspect the results spring from nanotubes’ natural hydrophobic (water-avoiding) nature that in one experiment apparently facilitated the plants’ enhanced uptake of water.
The lab mounted the small-scale study with the knowledge that the industrial production of nanotubes will inevitably lead to their wider dispersal in the environment. The study cites rapid growth in the market for nanoparticles in drugs, cosmetics, fabrics, water filters, and military weapons, with thousands of tons produced annually.
Despite their widespread use, Barron says few researchers have looked at the impact of environmental nanoparticles—whether natural or human-made—on plant growth.