Carbon molecules called “buckyballs” – which hold great promise for nanotechnology – but have been shown to harm fish have been made safer by scientists.


The soccer-ball-shaped carbon nanoparticles were shown to cause brain damage in fish and kill water fleas in a study in March 2004. But now a team at Rice University in Houston, Texas, US, has come close to understanding how buckyballs – more formally known as fullerenes – kill cells and how their toxicity can be lowered in human cells.



Although the toxic nature of the carbon-60 nanoparticles may be useful in medicine, for example in fighting cancer, there are concerns that their potentially widespread use in fuel cells, drug delivery and cosmetics could mean they find their way into the environment, and so into animals and humans.



“There are a couple of different manufacturers that will, and are, mass producing fullerenes,” says Christie Sayes, one of the team. “They could make it into consumer based products: fuel cells and batteries or make-up,” she says.



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