Tiny plastic particles have been discovered in unborn baby rats, the first time microplastics have crossed the placenta in living mammals.
The researchers found that the particles had traveled from the mother’s body, through the placenta, and then to vital organs in the fetus.
The study also found that polystyrene nanoparticles could reach the fetus just 90 minutes after the mother’s exposure.
Just a day later, the impact of the plastic led to exposure of the fetuses seven percent smaller than expected.
Scientists are not yet sure if the results also apply to human pregnancy, but the results are cause for concern.
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Tiny plastic “nanoparticles” that drift on every surface and substance in our world can travel from a mother’s body to her fetal brain, heart or lungs, new rat study suggests
Plastics are made up of long chain polymers that lose and break down over time into smaller fragments called microplastics.
These fibers, smaller than 5mm in size, are believed to pose a risk to animal and human health, but the exact extent of their dangers remains unknown.
Microplastics have been spotted in the most desolate parts of the world, including the Alps, Antarctica and the “death zone” of Mount Everest.
Nanoplastics are, however, about 1,000 times smaller than microplastics, and even less is known about their impact on human and animal health.
Researchers at Rutgers University tried to find out more by creating spherical pieces of polystyrene measuring only 20 nanometers in diameter.
In reality, nanoplastics are not perfectly round, but irregular in shape and look more like a flake than a bullet, which can alter their ability to infiltrate human systems, but more research is needed to understand this mechanism. say scientists.
The spherical nanoplastics were attached to a fluorescent particle so that scientists could see how far they had reached after being fed to rats in a lab.
“Twenty-four hours later, on day 20 of gestation, maternal and fetal tissues were assessed using fluorescent optical imaging,” the researchers write in their study, published in the journal Particle and Fiber Toxicology.
Microscope images show microplastics in the liver, lungs, kidneys, heart, and brain of fetuses whose mothers have been exposed to the nanoparticles (white)
During this critical period, developing rat fetuses whose mothers were exposed to microplastics (red) weighed seven percent less than healthy control rats (blue)
Scientists find microplastics in ‘death zone’ near Mount Everest
Microplastics have been discovered more than 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) from the world’s highest mountain in the so-called “death zone”, where oxygen is insufficient to support human life.
Scientists have captured evidence of the presence of the particles on the mountain and in the valley below and believe they came from polyester, acrylic and nylon outerwear.
But the microscopic pieces of plastic may also have floated to the top of Mount Everest thanks to swirling air currents.
Microplastics are tiny particles that are less than five millimeters (0.2 inches) in length, and the health impact of these particles remains a disturbing mystery.
Researchers at the University of Plymouth collected 19 high-altitude samples from Mount Everest and its surroundings. Eleven came from snow while eight were from stream water.
Base camp was the site with the highest concentration of microplastics, at 79 fibers per liter of snow.
But Camps 1 and 2, still higher in the mountains, were also polluted.
At the balcony of Mount Everest, at 8,440 meters above sea level, scientists found 12 microplastic fibers per liter of snow.
Analysis of the animals revealed that the fetuses of exposed mothers were seven percent lighter than expected. The placenta was also eight percent lighter than the control animals.
Microscopic images found nanopolystyrene particles in the mother’s lung, heart and spleen.
Polystyrene nanoparticles have also been observed in the placenta, liver, lungs, heart, kidneys and brain of the fetus “suggesting a translocation of nanoparticles from lung tissue to maternal fetal in late pregnancy,” the researchers write.
Previous studies have shown that the average person eats, drinks and inhales up to 142 tiny pieces of plastic per day, according to a 2019 study from the University of Victoria.
This works out to about 74,000 particles per year, or about one plastic credit card per week.
Plastics are believed to harm health by physically interfering with systems and tissues, for example by limiting nutritional absorption.
But they can also carry harmful chemicals which, in high enough doses, can also be harmful to human health.
Phthalates and bisphenols, for example, have been shown to alter hormone levels and negatively affect fertility.
Babies were found to be exposed to shards of microplastic from their milk bottles when particles are released from their vessels through the sterilization process.
And scientists had already found that these plastics can cross the generally effective blood-brain barrier.
“This study answers some questions and opens up other questions,” Professor Phoebe Stapleton, lead author of the study at Rutgers University, told The Guardian.
“We now know that particles can enter the fetal compartment, but we don’t know if they are lodged there or if the body is just isolating them, so there is no additional toxicity. ”