Cover Photo: Nanoplastics (in green) inside a zebra fish cell. Credit: UAB/CREAF

When plastic degrades it breaks into smaller micro and nanoparticles, becoming present in the water we drink, the air we breathe and almost everything we touch. These "nanoplastics" affect the composition and diversity of our intestinal microbiome and can seriously damage our health.

Recent studies show nanoplastics can cause inflammatory reactions in the intestinal walls, changes in the composition and functioning of the gut microbiome, effects on the body's metabolism and ability to produce immune responses. Long-term exposure to plastic, accumulated throughout generations, could give way to unpredictable changes even in the very genome. No effective solution has been found for the elimination of nanoplastics from the environment.

Nanoplastics impact and disrupt the structure and diversity of our gut microbiomes. This influence is seen in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Changes in the immune, endocrine and nervous systems occur when intestinal microbiomes shift.

Source: Nature; Expert(s) (Li et all)

The health effects of exposure to nanoplastics have historically been evaluated in marine organisms. Recent in-vitro analyzes using cell cultures of fish and mammals allowed the scientist to assess changes in gene expression associated with the existence of nanoplastic.

Up to 90% of plastic particles reaching the intestine are excreted after being ingested. The remainder is broken into nanoplastics that can infiltrate the cells and cause adverse effects.

In one paper investigating the impact of nanoplastic materials on fish published recently by Mariana Teles, Teles and colleagues believe "nanoplasty" can accumulate both in cells and in zebrafish embryos.

"To solve this problem of plastic pollution, human routines must change and policies should be based on informed decisions on the known risks and available alternatives," says Teles, "Individual actions such as the use of more environmentally-friendly products and an increase in recycling indexes are important"

Source: American Chemical Society; Expert(s) (Cox et al)

The authors suggest research in this area needs to proceed, considering that the existence of microplastics and nanoplastics in our environments is an increasingly significant environmental problem.

"The authorities can promote these pro-environmental actions through economic stimuli, such as tax benefits for reusing plastic as industrial raw material, as well as bottle deposit schemes for consumers."