A Microplastics Problem in Plants? – A Spiritual Insight

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We had discussed the topic of microplastics before (Previous article) and the corresponding environmental problems with plastic accumulation. Scientists are scrambling to understand how microplastics are impacting our environment. These microplastics are the result of the breakdown of plastic materials, bottles, microbeads in face cleaners, fleece jackets and more, and these materials which accumulate in garbage and waste sites and the ocean result in microplastics accumulating in the environment. How these microplastics are influencing living systems like plants are a major concern. A recent publication in the Journal Nano (2020) [1] reports on researcher’s findings on microplastic accumulation in plants.

References

  1. Stephen E. Taylor et al. Polystyrene nano- and microplastic accumulation at Arabidopsis and wheat root cap cells, but no evidence for uptake into roots, Environmental Science: Nano (2020). DOI: 10.1039/D0EN00309C

Plastics can potentially cause problems in soil at the chemical level. The major issue is toxins can bind to the plastic through electrostatic charge or Van der Waals forces leading to the accumulation of toxins. Because of this, we wonder whether toxins may also hitch a ride into a plant if plants are able to take up microplastics from the environment. So the major concern is whether plants are even capable of taking up microplastics or nanoplastics, and whether these are capable of getting into plant cells along with environmental toxins?

Now according to the recent study [1] microplastics and nanoplastics do not enter the plant cell level. Microplastics do however accumulate on the tips of roots of plants. The study mentioned that they do not bond well with root crops such as carrots. Their presence at the tip of roots however does pose a potential danger. As we had discussed earlier, microplastics are a major global issue, finding microplastics everywhere, from the tops of mountains, to the bottom of the seas (i.e. in the arctic). Over the past decade, microplastics research has focused upon aquatic environments, which is surprising since more microplastics are found on land than in the sea. Because of this growing issue, researchers need to study this phenomenon of microplastic accumulation at the cellular level. They first studied where plastics and toxins would enter the plant, at the root, and how they might accumulate or concentrate in the plant, what materials attach, etc. Another objective was to study how the plastics accumulate soil contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are linked to cancer studies. Some of the conclusions were that size is an important factor. Nanoplastics for example are 100 times smaller than the plant cell. At these sizes, it is easy to imagine how plants could potentially absorb these plastic particles. There are size limits however to what may pass through cell walls. 

A healthy mature plant can absorb materials 3-4 nanometers in size which is smaller than a virus. Some studies have shown plants can absorb nanoparticles that are 10-12 times larger than that, up to 40-50 nanometers. The question though is do plastics in these sizes enter into the cell? The study used Arabidopsis plant which is a soft white wheat. This plant family is related to the mustard seed with a short life cycle for easy analysis in the laboratory. This type of wheat is grown throughout the Pasific Northwest and is used in Asian noodles and crackers. The researchers planted the seeds in petri dishes along with a mixture of micro and nanoplastic beads. They used a confocal microscope at EMSL (Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory) which is used to look at animal tissue such as lung tissue.

The good news was there were no observed microplastic beads within the size range (3-75 nanometers) that were absorbed by the living plant cells.  The researchers did however see an plastic accumulation around the root cap cells and along the surface of the root. They did not see any evidence of microplastic beads inside of the cell structures or in between cells. The cap cells appear to protect the sensitive growing parts of roots. The reason is these growing parts are shed often. So the conclusion of the study was that absorption is not an issue. However, microplastic attachment to the root may be a problem which may present an issue for root crops like carrots, potatoes, and beets. This type of research is very important as we learn and understand the impact of waste, especially plastics, on the environment.

The Spiritual Insights that we receive from this type of research is related to the function of the Word of God in our lives that protects us from the influences that are around us. In the scientific research we see the problem of microplastics and their functioning as carriers for toxins. The researchers were trying to understand if there was any mass transport (Chemical Engineering Principle) of these plastic materials into the plant cell which would potentially be a serious health hazard for us. This type of research reminds us of the purpose of the commands of God. The example I am reminded of is in regards to the Lord God warning His people about entering into the Promised Land and the dangers of their pagan religious practices.  

ספר דברים פרק כ

י כִּי-תִקְרַב אֶל-עִיר לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ וְקָרָאתָ אֵלֶיהָ לְשָׁלוֹם: יא וְהָיָה אִם-שָׁלוֹם תַּעַנְךָ וּפָתְחָה לָךְ וְהָיָה כָּל-הָעָם הַנִּמְצָא-בָהּ יִהְיוּ לְךָ לָמַס וַעֲבָדוּךָ: יב וְאִם-לֹא תַשְׁלִים עִמָּךְ וְעָשְֹתָה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה וְצַרְתָּ עָלֶיהָ: יג וּנְתָנָהּ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְהִכִּיתָ אֶת-כָּל-זְכוּרָהּ לְפִי-חָרֶב: יד רַק הַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְהַבְּהֵמָה וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בָעִיר כָּל-שְׁלָלָהּ תָּבֹז לָךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת-שְׁלַל אֹיְבֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָךְ: טו כֵּן תַּעֲשֶֹה לְכָל-הֶעָרִים הָרְחֹקֹת מִמְּךָ מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא-מֵעָרֵי הַגּוֹיִם-הָאֵלֶּה הֵנָּה: טז רַק מֵעָרֵי הָעַמִּים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה כָּל-נְשָׁמָה: יז כִּי-הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִימֵם הַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ:

Devarim / Deuteronomy 20:10-17

20:10 ‘When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. 20:11 ‘If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 20:12 ‘However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 20:13 ‘When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 20:14 ‘Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. 20:15 ‘Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. 20:16 ‘Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 20:17 ‘But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, 20:18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God. (NASB)

In Devarim / Deuteronomy 20, we read how the Lord speaks of making peace and the people are to be made into forced labor. The text goes on to say that if they do not make peace they are to strike every man with the edge of the sword. In Devarim / Deuteronomy 8, notice how the Lord God speaks about his commands from the sense that we are to be careful to live by them. He says that if we follow God’s Word, live by His Word, we will live and multiply (לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּן וּרְבִיתֶם) Obeying God’s commands will lead to plentiful children, harvests, livestock, and other material blessings in the land. This blessing will extend to their being blessed above all peoples, being free from every type of sickness, and living in victory in the Promised Land as a light unto the nations. We read how the Lord took care of them through the wilderness. Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:3-4, ג   וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת-הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי-יְהוָֹה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם: ד   שִֹמְלָתְךָ לֹא בָלְתָה מֵעָלֶיךָ וְרַגְלְךָ לֹא בָצֵקָה זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה: 8:3 ‘He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. 8:4 ‘Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. (NASB) Moshe writes that they were humbled in the  desert by being limited in their possessions as indicated by the Lord working a miracle to give them food (mana) and to keep their clothes from wearing out the 40 years they were in the desert. These things Moshe is speaking of is to show the people how they are not to fear the people of the Land of Canaan, but instead to exercise faith, recalling what God did to Egypt, and how He sustained them in the wilderness. The people are to have no tolerance for idols of any kind, they are to send idolatry to destruction by fire and eradicating idolatry from the Land. The Lord’s provisions in the wilderness of food and clothing was to remind them that they are to rely upon the Lord God for meeting all of their needs. Their hardships in the wilderness was to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:3) Moshe’s emphasis is on walking by faith. Moshe warns not to forget the Lord by ignoring His commands, especially after having settled the Land and become prosperous. The scientific research draws out this aspect of the dangers of microplastics and toxins in the soil which may then enter into plants and then into us through consumption (eating). The microplastics function as a parallel to the people of the Land of Canaan, their way of thinking, worship, and immoral lives function as a toxic influence on the people which may lead them away from the ways of the Lord. If the people forgot their supernatural deliverance, turning to idols, and even believing in their own righteousness or ingenuity as giving them their wealth, God promised that they too would soon perish from the Land just like the seven nations did before them in Canaan. This is why Moshe wrote what he did in Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:18, ח   וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשֹוֹת חָיִל לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה: 8:18 ‘But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (NASB) Moshe reminded Israel that they were to be given the Land, not because they were better than the nations or more righteous, but because the Lord God was (i) fulfilling the promises to their fathers, and (ii) the Lord was bringing judgment upon these seven nations because of their wickedness according to Devarim / Deuteronomy 9:1-5.

ספר דברים פרק ט

א   שְׁמַע יִשְֹרָאֵל אַתָּה עֹבֵר הַיּוֹם אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן לָבֹא לָרֶשֶׁת גּוֹיִם גְּדֹלִים וַעֲצֻמִים מִמֶּךָּ עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וּבְצֻרֹת בַּשָּׁמָיִם: ב   עַם-גָּדוֹל וָרָם בְּנֵי עֲנָקִים אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ וְאַתָּה שָׁמַעְתָּ מִי יִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי-עֲנָק: ג   וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם כִּי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הוּא-הָעֹבֵר לְפָנֶיךָ אֵשׁ אֹכְלָה הוּא יַשְׁמִידֵם וְהוּא יַכְנִיעֵם לְפָנֶיךָ וְהוֹרַשְׁתָּם וְהַאֲבַדְתָּם מַהֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה לָךְ: [שלישי] ד   אַל-תֹּאמַר בִּלְבָבְךָ בַּהֲדֹף יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֹתָם | מִלְּפָנֶיךָ לֵאמֹר בְּצִדְקָתִי הֱבִיאַנִי יְהֹוָה לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וּבְרִשְׁעַת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה יְהוָֹה מוֹרִישָׁם מִפָּנֶיךָ: ה   לֹא בְצִדְקָתְךָ וּבְיֹשֶׁר לְבָבְךָ אַתָּה בָא לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת-אַרְצָם כִּי בְּרִשְׁעַת | הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מוֹרִישָׁם מִפָּנֶיךָ וּלְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָֹה לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב: ו   וְיָדַעְתָּ כִּי לֹא בְצִדְקָתְךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה הַזֹּאת לְרִשְׁתָּהּ כִּי עַם-קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף אָתָּה:

Devarim / Deuteronomy 9:1-6

9:1 ‘Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, 9:2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 9:3 ‘Know therefore today that it is the Lord your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the Lord has spoken to you. 9:4 ‘Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. 9:5 ‘It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 9:6 ‘Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. (NASB)

Moshe reminded Israel that they were to be given the Promised Land, not because they are better than the other nations and to remember what happened in the wilderness, it is not because of their righteousness, but because the Lord was using Israel as a means of judgment upon the Seven nations in Canaan. Moshe then recounts their sins, even after they had heard the voice of God Himself speaking at Sinai, their fathers provoked the Lord with the golden calf. Moshe interceded on behalf of the people so they would not be totally destroyed. The Moshe concludes saying, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 9:24) We notice how in the opening verses in Devarim / Deuteronomy 9, Moshe provides the proof text for living by faith by the grace of God, and not of our own righteous works. This concept is extensively discussed in the NT by the disciples and Paul. This does not however presuppose that one is not to live righteous, holy, and just lives. These scripture illustrate the great mercy and forgiveness of God, and the covenant relationship. This is why Moshe asked the people “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 10:12) Moshe then pleaded with the people to circumcise their hearts so as to remove the hardness of heart and to no longer be stubborn and stiff necked. Moshe encourages the people by commanding the people to keep the Word of God in their lives, namely the statutes (Chukkim), judgments (mishpatim), and commandments (mitzvot). He admonishes them to heed the discipline of the Lord and to remember His mercy and salvation from bondage in Egypt. He says that obeying God’s Word gives strength to raise up, to go in, and to go out, and to take possession of the Land and to dwell in security. Moshe reveals this as telling the people to make a commitment to the Lord, so they can ensure a plentiful harvest by the bringing of the autumn and spring rains. These things would be withheld if the people became disobedient.  

We note how God punishes the wicked because He is Just. One of the attributes of God is His justice, and because of this He will allow injustice only for a short period so men will repent. Job 8:3 states “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?” Job 34:12 answers the question, “Surely, the Almighty will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”  Tehillim / Psalm 37:28, “For the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.” (NASB) The message is simple, the Lord God is holy and He hates sin and disobedience. Now we note something the Torah writes concerning the commandments according to Devarim / Deuteronomy 30

ספר דברים פרק ל

יא   כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא-רְחֹקָה הִוא:

Deuteronomy 30:11

“‘For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” (NASB) 

“‘This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is not beyond your reach.” (NLT)

These comments suggest to us that it is possible to keep the command for a time. It is not as if it is impossible to obey God’s Word. The issue is related to our being consistent for the rest of our lives, we eventually fail. In addition to this, God said blood atonement is necessary (Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11) and there are consequences to sin. The simple message is that without blood atonement there can be no forgiveness of sins. The Lord punishes the wicked. Now it may be questioned whether a man who sins only occasionally would be considered wicked? When one sins, is he or she rejecting the way of God? This is an important question, because disobedience is the choice of our way as opposed to God’s way. Sin is a rejection of the Lord God of Israel and His Word. Note this isn’t about being lesser or greater in wickedness. It is about holiness as God is holy as opposed to its anthesis “wickedness.”  The prophet Habakkuk complained saying, in Habakkuk 1:12 Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? (NASB) He saw the widespread wickedness his people were involved with. His spirit grieved because of the ungodliness and evil in the Land. Because God is holy, Habakkuk could not understand why evil and sin was allowed to continue.  We are told according to 2 Peter 3:8-9 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the LORD a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The LORD is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The Lord delays in His wrath because of His wanting us to repent and turn from our sins! This is why the Lord God of Israel sent His son Yeshua to die for our sins. So that we would have both the shedding of blood and forgiveness of sins. In addition to this, believing in Him we receive God’s Holy Spirit within (John 14). 

The Spiritual Insights that we receive from this type of research is related to the function of the Word of God in our lives that protects us, our hearts, and if we put God’s Word into action, protects our lives as well! In the scientific research we see the problem of microplastics and their functioning as carriers for toxins has led to researchers trying to understand if there is mass transport (Chemical Engineering Principle) of these plastic materials and toxins into the plant cell which would potentially be a serious health hazard for us. This type of research reminds us of all of these things, and the purpose of the commands of God, which are given for our good and for life! These things remind us of the warning God has given us in His word regarding the deceitfulness of this world. The Israelites had great dangers in the Promised Land, and if they were faithful, God would go before them to drive the nations out of the Land. Note how these warnings are not just about a religious practice, these warnings also apply to the world’s influence on morality, ethics, justice, and truth!

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Dr. Duane D. Miller received his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. Degree in Chemical Engineering from The University of Akron Ohio. He is currently a Chemical Engineering Researcher. Duane’s research expertise has focused upon functional materials development for the control, conversion, and release of process gases in Energy production technologies. His R&D interests include computational chemistry, developing novel technologies for converting biomass to fuels and studying their fundamental interactions during the chemical conversion process. His past experience includes sorbent development for pre- and post-combustion CO2 and SO2 capture, selective absorption of H2S from methane streams, O2 capture for oxy-fuel combustion, photocatalytic reduction of alcohols, NOx reduction catalysis, the development of oxygen carriers to combust fossil fuels (CH4 and coal) for the chemical looping combustion processes, and the extraction of rare earth elements using patent pending sorbents. His research expertise has focused on operando-characterization using Infrared, Raman, and UV-Vis spectroscopy to observe the nature of the catalytic active sites and reaction intermediates under realistic reaction conditions, allowing direct correlation of molecular/electronic structures with catalyst performance during Gas-Solid / Liquid-Solid Adsorption and Photocatalytic Processes with real time online analysis of reaction products using ICP-MS and mass spectrometry. His current work involves a multi-disciplinary approach to developing, understanding, and improving the catalytic gasification of coal and methane, high temperature chemical looping combustion, and the catalytic decomposition and gasification of biomass and coal using novel microwave reactor.​ He has been studying the Hebrew Scriptures and the Torah for 20+ years and sharing what he has learned. The studies developed for MATSATI.COM are freely to be used by everyone, to God be the Glory!