University of Pittsburgh researchers have developed the first natural, nontoxic method for biodegrading carbon nanotubes, which are being used in more and more consumer products but can be dangerous to living things in ways not fully understood.
Pitt professors Alexander Star and Valerian Kagan were looking for a way to get rid of carbon nanotubes if they’re spilled when they discovered that a naturally-occurring enzyme-- horseradish peroxidase—will biodegrade nanotubes. So it would be possible to develop a kit to clean up spills in the environment, lab or factory.
The potential of carbon nanotubes is immeasurable because they are small and light but very strong; they are also chemical sensors and conduct electricity. But they are known to cause severe lung inflammation and could be toxic in other ways.
Professor Kagan says more research is needed and is being done, often in combination with European scientists, and fortunately, such work is now well funded. So Kagan recommends being aware and careful but not paranoid about the possible toxicity of nanomaterials.