Stable isotope labeling of metal/metal oxide nanomaterials for environmental and biological tracing

Peng Zhang, S Misra, Z Guo, M Rehkämper, E Valsami-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Engineered nanomaterials (NMs) are often compositionally indistinguishable from their natural counterparts, and thus their tracking in the environment or within the biota requires the development of appropriate labeling tools. Stable isotope labeling has become a well-established such tool, developed to assign ‘ownership’ or a ‘source’ to engineered NMs, enabling their tracing and quantification, especially in complex environments. A particular methodological challenge for stable isotope labeling is to ensure that the label is traceable in a range of environmental or biological scenarios but does not induce modification of the properties of the NM or lose its signal, thus retaining realism and relevance. This protocol describes a strategy for stable isotope labeling of several widely used metal and metal oxide NMs, namely ZnO, CuO, Ag, and TiO2, using isotopically enriched precursors, namely 67Zn or 68Zn metal, 65CuCl2, 107Ag or 109Ag metal, and 47TiO2 powder. A complete synthesis requires 1–8 d, depending on the type of NM, the precursors used, and the synthesis methods adopted. The physicochemical properties of the labeled particles are determined by optical, diffraction, and spectroscopic techniques for quality control. The procedures for tracing the labels in aquatic (snail and mussel) and terrestrial (earthworm) organisms and for monitoring the environmental transformation of labeled silver (Ag) NMs are also described. We envision that this labeling strategy will be adopted by industry to facilitate applications such as nanosafety assessments before NMs enter the market and environment, as well as for product authentication and tracking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2878–2899
Number of pages22
JournalNature protocols
Early online date11 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


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