Scientists close to nanotechnology research on human health and environment have concluded that the technology's effects are not well understood, according to a recent literature review published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. But this hasn't deterred the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from pushing forward to regulate and oversee nanoagriculture.

Nanotechnology use in pesticides to be regulated by EPAA team of chemists at the University of Texas at El Paso set out to understand how nanoparticles amass on plants and if that creates problems for the plants and those who eat them. The particles' small size—think 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch—may allow them to pass through cell membranes or the blood-brain barrier, possibly resulting in unintended effects, said the EPA.

But EPA also states that the use of nanoscale materials in pesticide products may have positive potential. Nanoagriculture could allow for "more effective targeting of pests, use of smaller quantities of a pesticide and minimizing the frequency of spray-applied surface disinfection," according to the agency.

So far, the scientific evidence points to more questions than answers. The nanotechnology in agriculture review found that "very few studies have been conducted on the genetic response rendered by the nanoparticles on edible plants." Various factors influence toxicity of a plant, and the scientists concluded that no general toxicity trend could be found.

However, researchers cautioned that most of the studies observed physiological and visual toxicological effects, and that toxicity also should be studied at the proteomic, genomic and metabolic levels.

The review included studies and recent publications on the absorption, translocation, accumulation, and biotransformation of engineered nanomaterials in edible plants, such as soybean, pumpkin, alfalfa and corn.