Colloidal suspensions of clay or titanium dioxide nanoparticles can inhibit leaf growth and transpiration via physical effects on root water transport


P. M. Neumann. Fax: +972 4 8228898; e-mail:


A laboratory investigation was conducted to determine whether colloidal suspensions of inorganic nanoparticulate materials of natural or industrial origin in the external water supplied to the primary root of maize seedlings (Zea mays L.) could interfere with water transport and induce associated leaf responses. Water flow through excised roots was reduced, together with root hydraulic conductivity, within minutes of exposure to colloidal suspensions of naturally derived bentonite clay or industrially produced TiO2 nanoparticles. Similar nanoparticle additions to the hydroponic solution surrounding the primary root of intact seedlings rapidly inhibited leaf growth and transpiration. The reduced water availability caused by external nanoparticles and the associated leaf responses appeared to involve a rapid physical inhibition of apoplastic flow through nanosized root cell wall pores rather than toxic effects. Thus: (1) bentonite and TiO2 treatments also reduced the hydraulic conductivity of cell wall ghosts of killed roots left after hot alcohol disruption of the cell membranes; and (2) the average particle exclusion diameter of root cell wall pores was reduced from 6.6 to 3.0 nm by prior nanoparticle treatments. Irrigation of soil-grown plants with nanoparticle suspensions had mostly insignificant inhibitory effects on long-term shoot production, and a possible developmental adaptation is suggested.