Fluorescent nanoparticles as tools in ecology and physiology

Sanni M.A. Färkkilä, E. Toby Kiers, Raivo Jaaniso, Uno Mäeorg, Roger M. Leblanc, Kathleen K. Treseder, Zhenhui Kang, Leho Tedersoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fluorescent nanoparticles (FNPs) have been widely used in chemistry and medicine for decades, but their employment in biology is relatively recent. Past reviews on FNPs have focused on chemical, physical or medical uses, making the extrapolation to biological applications difficult. In biology, FNPs have largely been used for biosensing and molecular tracking. However, concerns over toxicity in early types of FNPs, such as cadmium-containing quantum dots (QDs), may have prevented wide adoption. Recent developments, especially in non-Cd-containing FNPs, have alleviated toxicity problems, facilitating the use of FNPs for addressing ecological, physiological and molecule-level processes in biological research. Standardised protocols from synthesis to application and interdisciplinary approaches are critical for establishing FNPs in the biologists’ tool kit. Here, we present an introduction to FNPs, summarise their use in biological applications, and discuss technical issues such as data reliability and biocompatibility. We assess whether biological research can benefit from FNPs and suggest ways in which FNPs can be applied to answer questions in biology. We conclude that FNPs have a great potential for studying various biological processes, especially tracking, sensing and imaging in physiology and ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2392-2424
Number of pages33
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • alternative quantum dots
  • bioimaging
  • biosensing
  • fluorescence techniques
  • fluorescent carbon nanoparticles
  • fluorescent labelling
  • molecular tracking
  • nanoparticles in biology
  • nanotechnology
  • quantum dots

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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