What is 1 ng mL?

1 ng mL is a concentration unit that stands for 1 nanogram per milliliter. It is used to express very low concentrations of substances, especially in analytical chemistry and biochemistry.

Some key facts about 1 ng mL:


– 1 ng = 0.000000001 grams = 10-9 grams
– 1 mL = 0.001 liters

So 1 ng mL means there are 0.000000001 grams of a substance dissolved in 0.001 liters of solution. This is an extremely dilute concentration.


– Measuring contaminants and residues – 1 ng mL is around the detection limit for many analytical techniques used to measure environmental pollutants, pesticide residues, toxins, etc.

– Quantifying hormones and biomarkers – Many hormones, proteins, and other biomarkers are found at very low levels in body fluids like blood or urine. Their concentrations are often reported in ng mL units.

– Dilution calculations – Working with potent drugs, toxins, or other agents often requires preparing solutions with concentrations in the ng mL or pg mL (picograms per mL) range.


– An analytical chemist using mass spectrometry measures arsenic in drinking water at concentrations of 1-5 ng mL. This allows detection of arsenic at levels well below the 10 ng mL safety limit.

– A serum TSH level of 0.5 ng mL indicates normal thyroid function, while 4 ng mL suggests hypothyroidism. TSH is a hormone measured in blood tests.

– When diluting a potent toxin for research, a biochemist prepares a 1 ng mL solution to safely handle tiny quantities and minimize risks.

Converting Between Units

To understand 1 ng mL concentrations, it helps to convert between some other common units:


– 1 ng = 0.000000001 g

So in 1 mL of solution, there is 0.000000001 g of dissolved substance

Parts-per notation

– 1 ng mL = 1 part per billion (ppb)

This means 1 part of the substance per 1 billion parts of solution.


– For a protein with molar mass 60,000 g/mol, 1 ng/mL = 16.7 picomolar (pM)

– For a small molecule with molar mass 300 g/mol, 1 ng/mL = 3.3 nanomolar (nM)

Molarity accounts for molecular weight and is used to compare different sized molecules.


– 1 ng/mL = 0.0001%

So 1 ppb can also be expressed as 0.0001% or 10 parts per million (ppm).

Dilution Calculations

Dilution calculations are often required when making solutions in the ng mL range from a more concentrated stock solution:


C1 x V1 = C2 x V2


C1 = Initial concentration
V1 = Initial volume
C2 = Final concentration
V2 = Final volume

Example Calculation

If a stock solution has a concentration of 1 mg/mL and you want to make 100 mL of a 1 ng/mL solution:

C1 = 1 mg/mL
V1 = ?
C2 = 1 ng/mL
V2 = 100 mL

Plugging into the formula:

V1 = (C2 x V2) / C1
V1 = (1 ng/mL x 100 mL) / 1 mg/mL
V1 = 0.1 mL

So you would take 0.1 mL of the 1 mg/mL stock and dilute it to 100 mL to make your 1 ng/mL solution.

Measurement Methods

Detecting such low concentrations requires highly sensitive analytical techniques. Some options include:

Mass Spectrometry

Mass spec can measure down to low ng mL or even pg mL levels for many compounds. Ionization techniques like LC-MS/MS enable quantification of small molecules at very low abundances.

Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy

AAS can measure metal concentrations down to 0.1-1 ng mL concentrations. Flame and graphite furnace AAS are commonly used to detect heavy metals in water.


Antibody-based tests like ELISAs can detect proteins and other molecules down to the low pg/mL range. They are applied when high sensitivity is needed.


The polymerase chain reaction can amplify trace amounts of DNA for detection. Real-time PCR can quantify DNA concentrations down to 1 pg/mL.

Method Detection Limit Analytes
LC-MS/MS Low ng/mL Small molecules
AAS 0.1-1 ng/mL Metals
ELISA Low pg/mL Proteins
PCR 1 pg/mL DNA


Some applications where 1 ng mL concentrations are relevant:

Contaminant Detection

Many pollutants and environmental contaminants become toxic at low ng mL exposures. Methods like LC-MS enable monitoring at these levels. Some examples:

– Pesticides in food and water
– Toxic heavy metals
– Air pollutants
– Persistent organic pollutants

Regulations often set limits between 1-100 ng mL for contaminants in drinking water. 1 ng mL represents an achievable detection goal.

Biomarker Analysis

Important biomarkers like hormones and proteins can indicate disease at very low ng mL concentrations in serum, urine, saliva and other samples. Sensitive ELISA and mass spec methods allow quantification at these levels.

Some examples:

– Troponin for detecting heart damage
– Thyroid hormones T3 and T4
– Insulin and glucagon
– Prostate specific antigen (PSA)

Forensic Toxicology

Powerful opioids like fentanyl have lethal doses in the microgram range. Accurately measuring ng mL concentrations in blood is critical for forensic toxicology. LC-MS allows quantifying these toxic levels.

Doping Analysis

Many performance enhancing drugs are prohibited at very low concentrations by anti-doping agencies. LC-MS allows detecting ng mL levels in blood and urine to catch cheating athletes.


While measuring at the 1 ng mL level is essential in many areas, there are some limitations to consider:

Detection Limits

Achieving 1 ng mL sensitivity can push the limits of some analytical techniques and laboratories. Careful method validation is required.

Matrix Effects

Complex sample matrices like blood, soil, or food can interfere and make accurate quantification difficult at low levels. Extensive sample prep or standard additions may be required.


Specialized high-sensitivity analytical instruments like LC-triple quadrupole mass specs are expensive to purchase and maintain. Operational costs may limit frequent analysis.

Errors and Variability

At very low concentrations, random errors have a proportionally larger effect. Precision and repeatability becomes more difficult. Replicates and proper statistics are important.


1 ng mL represents an extremely dilute concentration, requiring sophisticated analytical technology for detection and quantification. This capability allows scientists to measure toxicants, biomarkers, drugs, and other key analytes at biologically and environmentally relevant levels. However, limitations like matrix effects, precision, and operating costs must also be considered when working in the 1 ng mL range.

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