Associate professor Himanshu Khandelia has received DKK 1,989,500 from the Villum Foundation

Associate professor Himanshu Khandelia has received DKK 1,989,500 for the project “Using bacteria to capture and remove nanoplastics”. Human health issues as well as the potential removal of nanoplastics from the environment are at the center of this project. By using bacteria to remove potentially harmful plastics from drinking water and the environment, this project will be of great benefit to the wider industry and society.

The project focuses on human health and drinking water. Micro and nano plastic particles are present in salt, fish, beer and drinking water. Most nanoplastics research has focused on larger (> 200 nm) particles that are easy to detect. Such > 200 nm nanoparticles are likely to pass harmlessly through humans. Very little is known about the effect of particles below 50 nm because they are difficult to (1) detect in water or cells due to their small size and (2) produce and functionalize in the laboratory.

Here we propose a unique method to detect and capture nanoplastics below 50 nm using bacteria that adhere to plastic surfaces. Such bacteria use specialized processes to adhere to plastic. We will combine simulations, molecular biology methods and analytical chemistry techniques to engineer this bacterial process for the detection and removal of sub-50 nm nanoplastics from water. Our research can lead to a cleaner biosphere and enable future studies of the occurrence, toxicity and cellular interactions of nanoplastics below 50 nm, which can have a health effect on humans and animals.