Incorporating nanotechnology into biotechnology for crop breeding hit a snag recently. Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently discovered engineered nanoparticles can accumulate within plants and damage their DNA.

Chemists have previously been successful at crafting three-dimensional molecular structures, a breakthrough that unites biotechnology and nanotechnology. Scientists believe nanoparticles can serve as “magic bullets,” containing herbicides, chemicals, or genes, which target particular plant parts to release their content. Nanocapsules can enable effective penetration of herbicides through cuticles and tissues, allowing slow and constant release of the active substances.

However, the NIST/UMass research team showed that under laboratory conditions, cupric oxide nanoparticles have the capacity to enter plant root cells and generate many mutagenic DNA base lesions. This is a problem because cupric oxide is an oxidizing agent. Oxidation has been shown to induce DNA damage in certain organisms.

“Researchers first exposed radishes and the two ryegrasses to both cupric oxide nanoparticles and larger sized cupric oxide particles (bigger than 100 nanometers) as well as to simple copper ions,” reported

“For the radishes, twice as many lesions were induced in plants exposed to nanoparticles as were in those exposed to the larger particles. Additionally, the cellular uptake of copper from the nanoparticles was significantly greater than the uptake of copper from the larger particles. The DNA damage profiles for the ryegrasses differed from the radish profiles, indicating that nanoparticle-induced DNA damage is dependent on the plant species and on the nanoparticle concentration.”

Read more about the recent research here.