A new study conducted by a team of researchers at the Cornell and the State University of Binghamton has found that food-grade metal oxide nanoparticles exposure can alter the intestinal microbial populations, brush border membrane functionality, and morphology in vivo.
The study, which was published in the journal Antioxidants, highlights the potential risks of using nanoparticles in food production and processing. This collaboration was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Metal oxide nanoparticles, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are commonly used as food additives to improve the appearance and texture of food products. They are also used in food packaging materials to extend shelf life and prevent contamination. However, their safety has been a subject of debate for many years, with concerns over their potential toxicity to humans and the environment.
To investigate the effects of metal oxide nanoparticles on the gastrointestinal system, the researchers used Gallus gallus, the domestic chicken, as a model. Chickens are commonly used in research as their digestive system is similar to that of humans. The chickens were fed a diet containing either no nanoparticles or nanoparticles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide at levels commonly found in food products.
Changes in the microbial populations
The results of the study showed that exposure to metal oxide nanoparticles led to changes in the microbial populations in the chickens’ intestines. Specifically, the researchers observed a decrease in the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and an increase in potentially harmful bacteria such as Enterococcus and Escherichia coli.
Furthermore, the researchers found that exposure to metal oxide nanoparticles affected the structure and function of the chickens’ brush border membrane, which is responsible for nutrient absorption in the intestines. The nanoparticles caused the membrane to become thinner and less organized, which could lead to a decrease in nutrient absorption and a compromised immune system.
“These findings suggest that exposure to food-grade metal oxide nanoparticles can have a significant impact on the gastrointestinal system and overall health,” said Dr. Elad Tako, lead author of the study. “Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment.”
The study adds to the growing body of research highlighting the potential risks associated with the use of nanoparticles in food production and processing. While nanoparticles have been shown to have many benefits, including improved food quality and safety, it is important to ensure that their use does not come at a cost to human health and the environment.
The researchers note that more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which metal oxide nanoparticles affect the gastrointestinal system and to develop strategies to minimize their potential risks.