The plastic is damaging the cells of our body. That’s how

A new study has discovered for the first time that tiny plastic particles found in water and air affect the function of our body’s cells and could damage them. Here are all the details.

Beyond the waste generated when these products pollute the environment in massive quantities, plastic plates, cups, and cutlery thrown in the trash can become microplastics – tiny plastic particles found almost everywhere scientists have Wanted, from the depths of the oceans to the snow. mountain peaks, from milk to beer and mineral water.

Plastics can never break down completely.

Until now, the scientific world was divided on the question of whether microplastic particles have a detrimental effect on people.

Now, a new study from Spain shows for the first time that microplastic particles tend to adhere to the cell membranes that make up our body, and that they can cause problems in the proper functioning of the cell.

To what extent should this news concern us? And what can we do about it?

Since the start of the massive use of plastic in the mid-20th century, the amount of plastic produced each year has only increased (with a slight decrease of 0.3 percent in 2020 due to the corona epidemic), and in 2019 more than 360 Million. tons of plastic was produced. This is roughly equal to the weight of the world’s total population.

“Contrary to popular belief, plastic breaks down in nature, but it breaks down into smaller particles, micrometers (millionths of a meter) and nanometers (billionths of a meter), in a process that can take hundreds of years,” he explained. Dr. Ines Zucker, head of the Tel Aviv University Nanotechnology Laboratory.

This microplastic is bound by plastic particles that are pre-produced to a size of a few microns, like the plastic beads found in various cosmetic products.

“The smaller the plastic, the easier it is to get through the barriers in our body,” Zucker explained. “Studies have shown that microplastics can cross barriers in the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream. It should be noted that the extent of the danger is not yet clear: some studies claim that it is very harmful to humans, while others claim that it is not. cause significant harm. “

The new study examined the interaction between microplastics in sizes from 0.8 to 10 micrometers and the cell membrane that encloses the cells of our body. In the first phase, the researchers used a computer model to test the effect that microplastic particles would have on the cell membrane and the biological material it contains. They found that each particle leads to an increase in the physical tension of the membrane.

“Mechanical pressure on the cell membrane can affect the function of proteins and channels in the cell membrane and tighten them,” Zucker explained.

It should be noted that because the cell membrane is similar in behavior to a liquid, it can move freely and release mechanical pressure on it, but the researchers’ assumption is that the release time from the cell membrane is slower than the rate at which the particles are being absorbed by it. Therefore, the stress on him increases.

In the second stage, the researchers tested the findings and assumptions of the computer model in an experiment: they created an artificial cell membrane that simulates the structure of the human cell membrane and soaked it in a liquid containing 10 microplastic one-micron particles. They found that the pressure measured at the cell membrane increased in direct proportion to the concentration of microplastics, which gradually adhered to the membrane, in accordance with the findings reflected in the computer model.

In the third phase of the experiment, the researchers used live red blood cells, which are identical to those found in the blood vessels of our body. They isolated a single blood cell and applied increasing pump pressure to it, until it disintegrated and was pumped into the device. The experiment found that when the blood cell was inside a solution containing 0.5 microns of microplastic, it disintegrated much faster than in the control experiment, where the solution in which the cell was found did not contain microplastic. According to the researchers, these measurements show that the presence of microplastics increases the tension on the membrane of red blood cells, which undermines their stability.

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A growing danger

Zucker said the study results may reflect the overall damage to our bodies and how microplastics affect our health. However, it is not yet clear what exactly is the effect of increased membrane tension on cell and body function.

“It should be noted that this is a basic study, which alone cannot yet determine whether exposure to microplastics has chronic or acute consequences for human health,” he said.

Zucker also noted that there are also problems with the type of microplastic the researchers used in the experiment.

Zucker adds that most labs around the world studying microplastics, including the one that conducted this study, work with beads of uniform size, in a pure polymer composition, and have a perfect round shape and do not look like pearls. microplastic particles in most products. Zucker recently created a more “realistic” microplastic in his lab, and says that from the initial results of an experiment he conducted on intestinal cells, this microplastic is more dangerous to cells than its “generic” laboratory counterpart.

Either way, as mentioned above, the amount of microplastics in the environment is only expected to increase in the coming years and decades and therefore, if it causes damage to the cell membranes of our body, it is only expected that their extension increase.

“We have yet to find out if exposure to microplastics will cause us disease and shorten life expectancy, but there is no question that the fact that we consume so much disposable plastic, especially here in Israel, is a cry for generations,” Zucker said. . . “Using plastic to drink something for 10 seconds, knowing that it will remain in the world for decades and centuries, is irresponsible for future generations.

“Until they develop a real replacement for plastic from consumables, there is no escape: you just have to use less,” he concluded.

Zavit is the news agency of the Israeli Association for Ecology and Environmental Sciences. This article was first published on the Jerusalem Post’s sister website, Walla!

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