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Protecting the Ecosystem From Unwanted Intruders

February 28, 2018
Plants have the ability to fight off bacteria, viruses, fungi, extreme temperatures and pollution, but little is known about their effectiveness in combatting nanoparticles — tiny metal fragments that can affect the environment, the economy and human health.

With this question in mind, Assistant Professor of Biology Azam Noori and a team of students are conducting an experiment to study how silver nanoparticles affect a plant’s physiological and molecular responses. The risk of nanoparticles being released into the environment and interacting with living organisms, including plants, has increased exponentially with the advancements in nanotechnology, along with the rapid development and application of engineered nanoparticles.

“There is lack of information about the impact nanoparticles have on plants in the ecosystem, specifically silver nanoparticles,” Noori said. “It is critical to understand the fate of nanoparticles in plants and the mechanism by which nanoparticles are taken. Understanding a plant’s response to nanoparticles will help scientists and environmentalists to protect crops and the environment, the economy through agriculture, as well as protecting human health since nanoparticles can enter a person’s body through the food chain.”

The students working with Noori play an essential role in this research. Biology majors Adam Ngo ’19 and Joseph Colbert ’18 have been helping set up the experiment by growing plants and exposing them to silver nanoparticles. In addition, students are trained to run the experiments, study how nanoparticles are taken up by plants using molecular and imaging techniques, and gather and analyze data for a manuscript.

“This research project has helped me become a better scientist, as I often revisit basic techniques and protocols that are necessary to perform more difficult tasks,” Colbert said. “My lab partner and I spend time performing various protocols to achieve a wide range of results, from which we can extrapolate publishable data. I enjoy the opportunity to attend research conferences the most, because it gives me the chance to sharpen my presentation skills as I present our results to professional researchers in the fields I am interested in.”

Students working alongside Noori are encouraged to present the portion of research they assisted with at national and international conferences. So far, Noori and her students have presented the first phase of research at a conference at Yale University, the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Hawaii and the 14th annual Phytotechnologies Conference in Montreal. In addition, the team will present new findings at an upcoming regional conference in April, and they plan to attend the ASPB international conference in Montreal this summer.

“This research will provide a great opportunity for students to learn different techniques that will increase their chance of being recruited by biotech or environmental science companies,” Noor saidi.

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  • Assistant Professor of Biology Azam Noori, left, works in the lab with biology student Joseph Colbert '18.
    Assistant Professor of Biology Azam Noori, left, works in the lab with biology student Joseph Colbert '18.

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