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Nanomaterials February 2020 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Madeeha Uppal

Microbial Resistance to Nanoparticles

Why is this topic significant?

New research shows that bacteria are able to acquire resistance to nanoparticles.

Description

The effects of nanomaterials on human health and the environment are gathering much attention, but research about the impacts of nanomaterials on naturally occurring bacteria is lacking. In a first report of its kind, scientists from the University of Minnesota describe results from exposure of bacteria to a certain nanomaterial that finds use for nonmedicinal purposes. Nickel manganese cobalt oxide nanoparticles are common in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Previous research by the same team had shown that acute exposure of a bacterium common in soil and water—Shewanella oneidensis MR-1—to moderate levels of nickel manganese cobalt oxide nanoparticles significantly impeded the growth of the bacterium. However, the bacteria colonies were able to recover their growth to preexposed levels. The new study tracks the effects of long-term exposure of Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 to high levels of nanoparticles. The scientists synthesized nickel manganese cobalt oxide nanoparticles and exposed these nanoparticles to various cultures of bacteria. In the course of repeated exposure, the bacteria were able to tolerate doses of nanoparticles that were higher by up to two times than a previously lethal dose. Moreover, the bacteria seemed to adapt over multiple generations and even build resistance to the nanoparticles. Growth of bacteria in pristine media showed that the acquired resistance was permanent.

Implications

Because nanotechnology is becoming a highly researched field and nanomaterials are seeing integration into large numbers of consumer products, concerns about the impacts of nanomaterials continue to grow. Various governing bodies are implementing regulation about use and distribution of nanomaterials. However, to date, very few studies have investigated the effects of nonmedicinal nanomaterials on soil and water bacteria. Portable electronic devices and electric vehicles are becoming common, and constant technology advances are enabling consumers to upgrade to newer models while discarding older devices and vehicles into landfills. As a result, nanomaterials in various components could potentially leach out into the environment and contaminate the soil and water. Once in the environment, nanomaterials can come in contact with bacteria that are vital for the ecosystem and may cause permanent mutations. As awareness grows about which consumer products contain nanomaterials, proper disposal of these products is likely to become important to avoid disturbing microbial ecology.

Impacts/Disruptions

Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, and much research looking for new antimicrobial coatings and drugs focuses on nanomaterials. Nanomaterials often have cytotoxic properties, and research has shown that some nanomaterials trigger several cellular mechanisms to instigate cell death. For this reason, some scientists believe that bacteria may be unable to develop resistance to nanomaterials-based antibiotics. However, other scientists suggest that some bacteria are able to acquire resistance against nanomaterials. For example, in 2017, scientists at Palacký University Olomouc showed that several bacteria were able to develop resistance against silver nanoparticles, a commercially available antimicrobial. The University of Minnesota research is certainly adding weight to the scientific community's most recent suggestion about microbial resistance to nanomaterials. These studies suggest that long-term analyses spanning several generations of bacteria are necessary to grasp the full impact of nanomaterials on bacteria.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, antimicrobials, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, batteries, nanoelectronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Promethean Particles Funding for Mass Manufacture of Nanoparticles

Why is this topic significant?

England-based Promethean Particles uses a unique mass-production technique for nanoparticle synthesis. The company recently received a large funding investment, which will spur the growth of nanomaterials in the region.

Description

In November 2019, Nottingham, England–based nanotechnology company Promethean Particles secured $969,000 in funding from Foresight Group, a private-equity-investment manager. Promethean Particles—a spinout from the University of Nottingham—specializes in the design and manufacture of nanomaterials. Promethean Particles boasts the world's largest continuous manufacturing plant with multimaterial nanoparticle capabilities. The company uses an innovative flow reactor that makes use of supercritical water for aqueous synthesis of nanoparticles: continuous hydrothermal synthesis. The method involves heating water under high pressure and then introducing aqueous metal salts. At these reaction conditions, the metal salt rapidly undergoes hydrolysis and dehydration to form crystalline nanoparticles. Promethean Particles has a wide library of metal, metal-oxide, metal-organic-framework, and phosphate dispersions. The company offers use of its reactor systems to customers who wish to manage their own manufacture-and-supply chain and also provides feasibility studies and investigations.

Implications

Scientists first showed in 1992 how supercritical water can serve to fabricate nanoparticles. Hydrothermal synthesis is a simple technique with benefits such as flexibility with use of various precursor metal salts and is therefore particularly popular for one-pot batch production. However, attempts to scale up the process have not been fruitful because of issues with control and reproducibility. Promethean Particles has overcome these issues by making the whole process continuous by use of a patented reactor design. Using its proprietary synthesis, Promethean Particles can fabricate nanoparticle dispersions with tailored particle sizes, shapes, morphologies, and surface functionalizations and produce dispersions with various concentrations. Such control over size and shape of nanoparticles is vital in many applications that require colloids with small size deviations.

Typically, manufacture of nanoparticles in industry relies on dry technologies. Not only do these technologies have issues with quality and health and safety, the resulting nanoparticles often suffer from agglomeration that can require additional processing before use. Promethean Particles' nanoparticles avoid agglomeration by always being in an aqueous state, which also reduces health-and-safety risks associated with inhalation of nanoparticulate powders.

Impacts/Disruptions

The nanotechnology market is growing rapidly as various nanoparticles, nanocrystals, quantum dots, and other nanomaterials find use in an ever-growing range of commercial products. With the world's largest reactor of its kind, Promethean Particles has the capability to fulfill a significant portion of the industry's nanoparticle demand. With the new funding from Foresight Group, the company could expand production and enter new markets in foreign countries. The company is researching copper-based conductive inks for three-dimensional printed electronics and flexible circuits. Copper-based inks could potentially disrupt silver-based inks, which are several times more expensive than copper-based inks. Opportunities for Promethean Particles also exist in creating metal–organic frameworks, which represent a market growing at a massive compound annual growth rate of 34.3%.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Nanoparticle manufacture, mass production, consumer products

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: