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Differentially charged nanoplastics demonstrate distinct accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana


Although the fates of microplastics (0.1–5 mm in size) and nanoplastics (<100 nm) in marine environments are being increasingly well studied1,2, little is known about the behaviour of nanoplastics in terrestrial environments3,4,5,6, especially agricultural soils7. Previous studies have evaluated the consequences of nanoplastic accumulation in aquatic plants, but there is no direct evidence for the internalization of nanoplastics in terrestrial plants. Here, we show that both positively and negatively charged nanoplastics can accumulate in Arabidopsis thaliana. The aggregation promoted by the growth medium and root exudates limited the uptake of amino-modified polystyrene nanoplastics with positive surface charges. Thus, positively charged nanoplastics accumulated at relatively low levels in the root tips, but these nanoplastics induced a higher accumulation of reactive oxygen species and inhibited plant growth and seedling development more strongly than negatively charged sulfonic-acid-modified nanoplastics. By contrast, the negatively charged nanoplastics were observed frequently in the apoplast and xylem. Our findings provide direct evidence that nanoplastics can accumulate in plants, depending on their surface charge. Plant accumulation of nanoplastics can have both direct ecological effects and implications for agricultural sustainability and food safety.

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Fig. 1: Nanoplastic characterization and physiological effects of nanoplastics on A. thaliana.
Fig. 2: ROS distribution and tissue morphology in roots.
Fig. 3: Uptake of nanoplastics and root response.

Data availability

The processed RNA-Seq data have been deposited in the Gene Expression Omnibus database under accession code GSE123369. All the other data are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21776163, 21676161 and U196224), Shandong Provincial Natural Science Foundation (ZR2019JQ18), Youth Interdisciplinary Science and Innovative Research Groups of Shandong University (2020QNQT014), the Fundamental Research Funds of Shandong University (2017JC021), the Qilu Youth Talent Program of Shandong University, the USDA-NIFA Hatch program (MAS 00549) and the UMass Amherst Conti Fellowship.

Author information




X.-Z.Y., S.-G.W. and B.X. designed the study. X.-Z.Y. and X.-D.S. wrote the manuscript. X.-Z.Y. and X.-D.S. analysed the results. Y.-B.J., H.T., X.K. and L.-J.F. performed the transcriptomics experiments. Y.-B.J. and J.-J.L. contributed to histological stains. F.-P.Z. contributed to high-performance liquid chromatography analyses. J.-L.D. and S.-S.D. synthesized nanoplastics. X.-Z.Y., X.-D.S., S.-G.W. and B.X. evaluated and revised the manuscript. Z.D. proofread the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xian-Zheng Yuan or Shu-Guang Wang or Baoshan Xing.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Catherine Santaella, Geraldine Sarret and Fabienne Schwab for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–8, Figs. 1–15 and refs. 1–22.

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Sun, XD., Yuan, XZ., Jia, Y. et al. Differentially charged nanoplastics demonstrate distinct accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana. Nat. Nanotechnol. 15, 755–760 (2020).

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