The Bioavailability, Toxicity, and Trophic Transfer of Manufactured ZnO Nanoparticles: A View from the Bottom

EPA Grant Number: R832530
Title: The Bioavailability, Toxicity, and Trophic Transfer of Manufactured ZnO Nanoparticles: A View from the Bottom
Investigators: Bertsch, Paul M. , Neal, Andrew , Jackson, Brian , Williams, Phillip , Glenn, Travis
Institution: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory , University of Georgia , Dartmouth College
Current Institution: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory , Dartmouth College , University of Georgia
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: October 1, 2005 through September 30, 2008 (Extended to September 30, 2009)
Project Amount: $363,680
RFA: Exploratory Research: Nanotechnology Research Grants Investigating Environmental and Human Health Effects of Manufactured Nanomaterials: A Joint Research Solicitation - EPA, NSF, NIOSH (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , Safer Chemicals


The overall objectives of the proposed research are to: 1) evaluate the bioavailability and toxicity of manufactured nanoparticles (ZnO) as a function of particle size to the model soil bacteria, Burkholderia cepacia and the model detritivore C. elegans as referenced against aqueous Zn2+; 2) evaluate the ability of manufactured ZnO nanoparticles to be transferred from one trophic level to the next as assessed in the simple food chain consisting of pre-exposed B. cepacia and C. elegans; and 3) evaluate the synergistic or antagonistic effects of manufactured ZnO nanoparticles on the toxicity of Cu2+ to B. cepacia and C. elegans. These three overall objectives will be approached in the context of the following four hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: The bioavailability and toxicity of manufactured ZnO nanoparticles increases with decreasing particle size (i.e., 6 nm vs. 80 nm).
Hypothesis 2: The toxicity of ZnO nanoparticles to B. cepacia and C. elegans is lower than an equivalent concentration of dissolved Zn2+.
Hypothesis 3: The bioavailability and toxicity of ZnO nanoparticles introduced via trophic transfer differs from direct exposure.
Hypothesis 4: ZnO nanoparticles alter the bioavailability and toxicity of dissolved metals


We will study the influence of particle size of ZnO nanoparticles, i.e. (3 nm vs. 80 nm) on bioavailability and toxicity (lethal and sub-lethal effects) and will compare these results with exposure to an equivalent concentration of aqueous Zn2+. Additionally, we will examine the effect of nanoparticles on the toxicity of a dissolved constituent (Cu2+). We will employ optical and fluorescent microscopy, element-specific synchrotron-based microspectroscopy, and hyphenated separations-ICPMS techniques to determine the distribution of nanoparticles within each organism and potential transformations of nanoparticles. Additionally, we will employ a transgenically-modified strain of C. elegans, in which we have incorporated a metal-specific promoter (metallothionein-2 [mtl-2]) that turns on expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the presence of bioavailable metals. We expect that the nanoparticle will not switch on the GFP promoter but transformations (dissolution) of the nanoparticles that release the free metal will induce GFP expression. Additionally, this transgenic strain will be used to study the effect of the bioavailability of Cu2+ in the presence of ZnO nanoparticles and the potential that bioavailability will be lowered as indicated by lower GFP expression. These observations will be coupled with measurements of lethal and sub-lethal responses for C. elegans exposed directly and indirectly from grazing on preexposed B. cepacia, including behavior and reproduction. We speculate that C. elegans will bioaccumulate greater quantities of ZnO nanoparticles when feeding on pre-exposed B. cepacia compared to direct exposure as a result of the likelihood that intracellular ZnO nanoparticles will be surface modified by biocompatible molecules (e.g., peptides, proteins, other intracellular ligands) in B. cepacia.

Expected Results:

These studies will provide among the first data on the bioavailability and toxicity of a widely used nanoparticle/nanocomposite (ZnO) to a model bacteria and detritivore and the first data available on potential for manufactured nanoparticles to be transferred through the food chain. The general lack of information on the bioavailability and toxicity of manufactured nanoparticles to microorganisms and higher organisms and on the ability of manufactured nanoparticles to be transferred from prey to predators leads to a number of very basic questions that will need to be resolved to ensure that the potential human health and ecological risks associated with the widespread use and disposal of manufactured nanoparticles are properly evaluated. The proposed research will provide critical information needed to begin to bridge these knowledge gaps.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 24 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

nanotechnology, metal oxides, nanoparticles, adsorption, absorption, exposure, ecological effects, bioavailability, trophic transfer, organism, cellular, population, enzymes, metals, nanoparticles, environmental chemistry, analytical, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, RFA, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Ecosystem Protection, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Environmental Microbiology, Risk Assessment, exploratory research environmental biology, ecological assessment, ecological impacts, ecosystem assessment, environmental fate, Health, Scientific Discipline, Water, Environmental Chemistry, Health Risk Assessment, Risk Assessments, Biochemistry, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, fate and transport, trophic transfer, food chain, bioavailability, nanotechnology, carbon fullerene, particle exposure, human exposure, environmental contaminants, ambient particle health effects, nanomaterials, engineered nanomaterials, human health risk

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2006 Progress Report
  • 2007
  • 2008 Progress Report
  • Final Report