The biological effects of engineered nanomaterials on soil organisms: surface coating and age matter
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Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) have been increasingly used in various applications. Often, the ENMs are functionalised with a surface coating to enhance their properties. Decades of research has provided information on mostly pristine and unmodified ENMs, while ecotoxicity of coated ENMs and how their hazard changes with age in soils is still uncertain. The thesis aimed to determine the toxic effects and bioaccumulation potential of CuO ENMs and CdTe quantum dots (QDs) with different chemical coatings (carboxylate, COOH; polyethylene glycol, PEG; ammonium, NH4+) on the earthworm (Eisenia fetida), and compare the effects to their metal salt (CuSO4) or micron-sized counterpart. Then, to determine if any observed toxicity was altered after ageing the soils for up to one year. Incidental plant growth was studied in the exposure soils to maximise the scientific value of the earthworm tests. Toxic effects of CuO ENMs were also assessed in Caenorhabditis elegans exposed in liquid and soil media to understand effects of the media and method of dosing on ENM toxicity. CuO ENMs were equally toxic to earthworms, or less toxic to plants than the dissolved Cu; whereas CdTe QD ENMs were more toxic than the micron-sized CdTe QDs. There was a coating effect in both, CuO and CdTe QD ENM experiments, the -COOH coated ENMs were most toxic in the fresh soil study, while -NH4+ coated ENMs were most toxic in the aged soil study. Despite the similarities in the toxicity ranking, the biological effects exerted were different between CuO and CdTe QD ENMs. In C. elegans exposures, the ENMs were more hazardous than dissolved Cu, but ranking of ENMs depended on the media and method of dosing. The results suggest the coating effect is determined by the reactivity of the coating in a given media, and it also depends on the core of the ENMs. As such, coating and ageing effects should be considered in the risk assessment of ENMs.
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