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Can graphene and layered materials biodegrade?

Biodegradation is the naturally occurring decomposition of materials by microorganisms, enzymes or other biological activity. It is important for materials to biodegrade to be considered safe, as the build-up of foreign materials can lead to ecological damage and health problems.

For these reasons, the Graphene Flagship believes that it is important to study the processes involved with the biodegradation of graphene and layered materials. For instance, a study from our Health and Environment work package showed that graphene itself can be biodegraded by a human enzyme.

In addition, the Graphene Flagship investigated the biodegradation of graphene oxide in zebrafish, as a model for the gastrointestinal tract. Our research shows that the inflammation caused by ingesting graphene oxide subsides over time, which supports the case that graphene oxide is a biodegradable material.