Science and technology

Scientists at Tampere University in Finland have found that different species react to nanoparticles at the molecular level in the same way. The researchers analysed hundreds of nanoparticle exposures and found that different species have a similar epigenetic molecular response to these particles. The newly discovered ancestral defence mechanism, which has been present in our ancestors, explains how cells and organisms adapt to long-term exposure to nanosized materials.

The results of the study are presented in the scientific article “An Ancestral Molecular Response to Nanomaterial Particulates”, published in the prestigious Nature Nanotechnology journal. The study has important implications for toxicology and reveals a significant link between the basic defence mechanisms of living organisms and their immune functions. Furthermore, the study provides insight into the effect of nanoparticles on immune system activation, which is crucial in predicting the clinical outcomes of viral infections such as COVID-19.

Nanoparticles are tiny materials found in various products and air pollutants that living organisms are exposed to daily. The researchers at the Finnish Hub for Development and Validation of Integrated Approaches (FHAIVE) analysed a vast amount of molecular response data to nanomaterials and discovered an epigenetic defence mechanism that is shared by different species, from humans to simpler organisms. The results of the study suggest that nanoparticles have a specific response that is linked to their nano-properties, proposing a solution to the "one chemical - one response" problem that currently limits the use of toxicogenomics in chemical safety assessments.

The effects of nanoparticles go beyond toxicology, and the study sheds light on the critical link between the basic defence mechanisms of living organisms and their immune functions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of immune response activation in predicting the clinical outcome of viral infections was highlighted. The study suggests that exposure to any drug or virus leaves a trace on the immune system, and this trace affects the body's response in the future. According to bioinformatics Professor Dario Greco, the coordinator of the study, the results reveal an important connection between the basic defence mechanisms of living organisms and their immune functions, and the study provides evidence that particles prime our immune system to better respond to future exposures.

Although the harmful effects of air pollutants on respiratory health have been well-known, Francis Crick Institute researchers recently showed that pollutants also cause lung cancer in non-smokers. Similarly, the impact of particles on the immune system's function has been demonstrated in cases of COVID-19 and lung cancer. The connection between particle exposure and immune system activation is crucial and can lead to crucial epidemiological insights. The study emphasises the importance of continued research into nanoparticles and the need to explore more deeply the link between particle exposure, immune function, and disease.