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Nanotech buckyballs kill fish

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Scientists today announced research suggesting buckyball molecules can trigger organ damage in fish, raising fears over the safety of the technology. When added to aquarium water, the particles also devastated the population of Daphnia, the tiny water-fleas near the bottom of the food chain.

The research was conducted on a small scale only, and the findings have yet to be reviewed by the scientific community at large. Even so, the results highlight how little is known about the way in which the molecules interact with the environment. Other research has found that some nano particles, when inhaled, damaged the subject animal's lung tissue.

Eva Oberdoerster, the environmental toxicologist who led the studies, told The Washington Post that the hazards and risks of nanotechnology are poorly understood.

She kept young largemouth bass in ten-litre aquariums filled with buckyball-contaminated water. The molecule was present at concentrations of 0.5 parts per million, similar to the concentration of common pollutants in US Ports, the paper said.

After 48 hours, the fishes' brains were examined for signs of lipid peroxidation, a standard measurement of biological damage. Oberdoerster found severe brain damage - some 17 times higher than the control group of fish, which had been kept in clean water.

At the same concentration, half of the daphnia in a test tank had died. Oberdoerster said this revealed the buckyballs as "moderately toxic".

These results are unexpected: scientists has predicted that buckyballs would clump together in water and sink to the sea bed. Other experts in the field said that the working assumption was that the nanoparticles would "become part of the muck". ®

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