Detection of nanoparticles in edible plant tissues exposed to nano-copper using single-particle ICP-MS

  • Arturo A. Keller
  • Yuxiong Huang
  • Jenny Nelson
Research Paper
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  1. 20th Anniversary Issue: From the editors


The increasing use of nanopesticides has raised concerns about their effects on crop plants and the impact of human health as well as ecological effects. While increased uptake of metal ions has been observed before, to date, very few studies have demonstrated the presence of nanoparticles in edible tissues. Single-particle inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (sp-ICP-MS) has been suggested as a powerful tool to detect inorganic nanoparticles (NPs) in environmental samples. Here, we exposed edible plant tissues from lettuce, kale, and collard green to nano-CuO, simulating its use as a nanopesticide. We applied sp-ICP-MS to demonstrate the presence of nanoparticles, both in the water used to rinse crop leaf surfaces exposed to nano-CuO and within the leaf tissues. Lettuces retained the highest amounts of nCuO NPs on the leaf surface, followed by collard green and then kale. Surface hydrophilicity and roughness of the leaf surfaces played an important role in retaining nano-CuO. The results indicate that most of the nanoparticles are removed via washing, but that a certain fraction is taken up by the leaves and can result in human exposure, albeit at low levels.

Graphical abstract


sp-ICP-MS Copper Vegetable Inorganic nanoparticles extraction Retention Sensors 



Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies. AAK also appreciates Agilent Technologies for their Agilent Thought Leader Award. The MRL Central Facilities supported by the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation under awards NO. DMR 1121053, a member of the NSF-funded Materials Research Facilities Network ( We thank the MRL Central Facilities for the use of their TEM instruments and Dr. Aidan Taylor at the UCSB MRL for his help with the TEM measurements.


This study was funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under NSF-EF0830117.

Compliance with ethical standard

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11051_2018_4192_MOESM1_ESM.docx (716 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 716 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arturo A. Keller
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yuxiong Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jenny Nelson
    • 3
  1. 1.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Center for Environmental Implications of NanotechnologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Agilent Technologies Inc.Santa ClaraUSA

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