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Nanotubes can harm beneficial soil microbes

Some carbon nanotubes used for strengthening plastics may have an adverse effect on soil microbiology.

Specifically, these raw, non-functionalized single-walled carbon nanotubes were shown to damage the active microbes in low-organic soil.

Ron Turco, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University, says many of the bacteria affected could be involved in carbon and nitrogen cycling, which are critical processes to ensure a fully functional soil.

“There appears to be more negative potential on the active microbial population than we thought,” says Turco, whose findings were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. “The as-produced materials could be a negative environmental situation if they are released into low-organic soils that could not absorb them.”

Functionalized carbon nanotubes have modifications that create chemical or biological changes to the nanotubes. They’re often used in medicines, and Turco’s research showed they had no effect in high-organic or low-organic soils.

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