Nanosilver Puts the Hurt on Microbes—and Maybe Fish, Too

By Andrew Moseman | November 18, 2009 1:56 pm

zebrafish220Toys, refrigerators, washing machines, socks—more and more products contain silver nanoparticles. It’s no wonder: These particles, which measure less 100 nanometers (smaller than a single HIV virus), can kill microbes on contact. But, researcher Darin Furgeson says, nanosilver can also escape into ecosystems and cause serious damage to fish embryos. Furgeson’s team published its results in the journal Small.

In one new experiment, Furgeson, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, exposed zebrafish embryos to silver nanoparticles in a laboratory, and found that some died and others were left with dramatic mutations. “Some of the fish became extremely distorted, almost making a number nine or a comma instead of a linear fish,” he said [Scientific American]. Eyes, tails, and other body parts turned out malformed in the fish that survived.

Just how much nanosilver gets into the environment? A separate study from Environmental Science & Technology washed nine kinds of nanosilver-containing textiles, including some “anti-bacterial and anti-odor socks” that are already on the market. The researchers found that anywhere from less than 1 percent to as high as 45 percent of the silver came out in the first wash. Most of the silver was in the form of coarse particles of greater than 450 nanometers, suggesting that mechanical stress in the washing machine was responsible for most of the release [The New York Times], and that the nanoparticles might have aggregated to reach that size.

Those nanoparticles flushed out by a washing machine can end up in both fish habitats and drinking water supplies. Furgeson says his fish experiments could help show whether nanosilver is a health concern for humans, too. “Zebrafish have similar tissues and organs to us,” Furgeson said. “They don’t have lungs, but they do have a liver, kidneys and heart – though it is only two chambered – and they have a blood-brain barrier” [Scientific American].

Related Content:
80beats: Scientist Smackdown: Can Nanoparticles Damage Human DNA?
80beats: Golden Nanocages Could Deliver Cancer Drugs to Tumors
80beats: Nanoscale Origami: A Box—With Lock & Key—Made Entirely of DNA
80beats: Did Chinese Factory Workers Die From Inhaling Nanoparticles?

Image: Wiki Commons / Kristof vt

  • Mike

    People are so obsessed and fearful of microbes. We have evolved with them and trying to remove them will only cause problems. The more we try to isolate ourselves from them the more vulnerable we become to them as our immune system gets lazy and complacent. Obvious to take precautions with nasty bugs, but to have toys, socks and appliances covered in this stuff is a little much…how did our ancestors ever get along without it?

  • Christina Viering


  • Cory

    Our ancestors rarely made it past 45, if you must know how. They got along by dying younger.

    Yes, it’s certain that we are overstepping common sense in our fear of disease — but it’s silly to suggest that our “ancestors” were somehow better off. There’s a reason why the stuff exists.

  • Rolando

    The reason why the stuff exists is for companies to make a larger profit with the individuals that buy it.

  • Anand

    There will always be a negative side to anything good.
    Why dont people see that the normal medicine we take also has side reactions. No medicine can be perfect. My question is why no such study happens on the common medicine available in the market?


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