Mariya Khodakovskaya, professor of biology and interim associate dean in the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences has received $464,000 from the USDA to assess the environmental risks of carbon nanomaterials used to stimulate and regulate the growth of plants. Dr. Khodakovskaya is working with Dr. Alexei Basnakian, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UAMS, and Dr. Micah Green, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, to examine if any health risks are involved with the use of these nanomaterials in plant agriculture.
Carbon-based nanomaterials, very tiny carbon materials (approximately 1-100 nanometers) can be used as growth regulators when delivered to crops or seeds in the form of soil supplements or sprays. These nanomaterials, such as nanotubes, graphene, fullerene, and nanohorns, are used to stimulate growth in multiple plant species, including food and non-food plants. While the use of these nanomaterials is relegated to research applications, they might be used in the agricultural industry. However, current research does not show if any harmful risks are associated with plants previously exposed to carbon-based nanomaterials entering the food chain.
To conduct this study, the project team will identify the exact amount of carbon nanotubes that can be accumulated in different plant organs, study how absorbed nanotubes can affect plant metabolism, and identify whether plant organs contaminated with nanotubes can be toxic to animals (mice) that consume the contaminated plants as a food source.
Khodakovskaya hopes that any risk associated with using carbon-based nanomaterials in plants will be low.
“I believe this is a very good interdisciplinary approach—that members of our team belong to different areas of science,” Khodakovskaya said. “Hopefully, the generated data will be very important for the research community, federal and environmental agencies, as well as the general populace.”
This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, AFRI project 2018-67021-27921