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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/Y002733/1
Title: METABOLISM: accelerator Mass SpEctrometry to quanTify nanoplastics and decipher their fAte and Behavior in envirOnmentaL and bIological SysteMs
Principal Investigator: Al-Sid-Cheikh, Dr M
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ETH Zurich
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: University of Surrey
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 March 2024 Ends: 31 May 2024 Value (£): 164,386
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 May 2023 ECR International Collaboration Grants Panel 3 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Studies investigating the effects of nanoplastics (NPs) on aquatic organisms used concentrations between 2 to 7 order-of-magnitudes higher than those predicted in the open ocean in order to be able to track NPs. These studies divided the community between those sounding the alarm due to the observed ecotoxicological effects, and those predicting that NP concentrations in the environment are far below any threshold-effect. In reality most experiments were inadequately designed, and thus the results unsatisfying. Fit-to-purpose experimental designs have been hindered by a lack of appropriate NP models, tracking methods, and monitoring strategies for environmentally realistic concentrations.

Using 14C-labelled NPs and conventional nuclear techniques, we have recently modelled that scallops, chronically exposed (over a year) to environmentally realistic NP concentrations (15 ug/L) might accumulate and reach NPs concentrations in body tissue where effects have been observed by those sounding the alarm. Astonishingly, this suggests that NPs might already be beyond threshold-effects in organisms and harming the marine biota.

Here, we will deliver an innovative approach that will overcome the analytical limitations for detecting, mapping and quantifying NPs in realistic environmental settings. By combining 14C-labelling of NPs with the ultimate sensitivity of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), METABOLISM will allow to investigate whether NPs in the oceans are already beyond "threshold-effect" concentrations in tissues. METABOLISM will: i) provide representative intrinsically radiolabelled NP models; ii) perform chronic NP exposures with a model organism (i.e. mussels) at environmentally realistic NP concentrations (ppt-levels); iii) develop the combustion AMS to generate toxicokinetic data; iv) explore the LA-AMS to produce spatially-resolve 14C measurement to quantify tissue distribution of NPs.

The approach proposed here is essential and will produce unique, valuable and fundamental knowledge on the combined long-term accumulation of NPs in aquatic environments. This is critical for developing appropriate management strategies regarding plastic litter. If successful, METABOLISM will indeed support policy makers in improving environmental risk assessments of NPs and other contaminants of emerging concerns (CEC). It is envisioned that the approach proposed herein will enable a step-change in the research on CECs and will allow the study of many different aspects of their fates (e.g., transformation, fragmentation, biomineralization, biodistribution).

METABOLISM chooses a highly innovative approach to address its research questions. It combines radiochemistry and unlock the power of the AMS to resolve important environmental questions. It will establish 14C-labelled NPs as a gold standard for performing realistic laboratory-based studies. It is fundamental research that will have a critical impact beyond its overall goal. The research proposed will, for instance, have a huge impact on the use of 14C as low-level tracer in biomedical studies (i.e. micro-dosing), where appropriate methods are often missing. The approach proposed is unique and will allow to perform ground-breaking science that goes beyond the state-of-the-art. METABOLISM builds an inter-disciplinary research team that integrates the relevant expertise in environmental analytical chemistry, radiochemistry and physics.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.surrey.ac.uk