Manufacturers often use silver nanoparticles in product packaging to keep out bacteria and insects, but there is little research so far about whether the particles are completely neutral in the context of our bodies.
Shreya Nandi ‘19, a biological sciences major minoring in East Asian studies, spent the summer exploring this question in the lab of Motoko Mukai’s, assistant professor of food science.
“Silver nanoparticles or AgNPs, are found in a variety of products such as agricultural pesticides, animal feed supplements, food packaging, dietary supplements, water purification systems, toothpaste, nursing bottles and cosmetics,” Nandi said.
Previous research has shown that nanoparticles have the potential to penetrate the food we eat and enter the bloodstream after ingestion.
“AgNPs can reach and accumulate in the liver, spleen, brain, kidney, lungs, bone marrow and muscles,” Nandi said. “In other words, they end up in vital areas of our body. They can be transported through the placenta and breast milk to infants, potentially reaching still-developing brains.”
Research concerning the effects of nanoparticles on the female reproductive system, as well as whole animals, is severely lacking, Nandi said. Her research tracks the effects of the particles’ exposure on the neuroendocrine system throughout the development of zebrafish.
“Zebrafish are an excellent model for this kind of study as they share 70 percent of their protein-coding genes with us,” Nandi said. “They are also easy to maintain, have high reproductive frequency and output, transparent embryos, and very accessible genetic tools.”
After researching aberrant life cycles of cancer-mimicking yeast at the National Cancer Institute in high school, Nandi joined Mukai’s lab because it included a variety of research areas including neurobiology, endocrinology and toxicology.
“The fact that this cutting-edge research is being performed from a biomedical standpoint is great for a premedical student like me,” Nandi said. “Through it, I’m gaining a crucial perspective on potential new disease causes we may not routinely consider.”
Nandi’s summer research was funded in part by The President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW) and The Pauline and Irving Tanner Dean’s Scholarship.
After graduating, she plans to take a gap year and conduct more research before attending medical school.
Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.