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Aquatic nanotoxicity testing: Insights at the biochemical, cellular, and whole animal levels Open Access


Other title
zinc oxide
cadmium selenide
humic acid
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ong, Kimberly J.
Supervisor and department
Goss, Greg (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Ali, Declan (Biological Sciences)
Klaine, Stephen (Biological Sciences, Clemson University)
Tierney, Keith (Biological Sciences)
Veinot, Jon (Department of Chemistry)
Goss, Greg (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Physiology, Cell, and Developmental Biology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Aquatic organisms are susceptible to waterborne nanoparticles and there is only limited understanding of the mechanisms by which these emerging contaminants affect biological processes. The unique properties of nanomaterials necessitate evaluation of standard toxicity testing techniques to provide a solid foundation for thorough and accurate biological effects testing. I discovered that many biochemical assays used to test toxicity are affected by nanoparticles, thus hindering our ability to properly evaluate nanotoxicity. A meta-analysis showed that ca. 95% of papers from 2010 assessing nanotoxicity did not account for nanoparticle interference, with only minimal improvement in 2012. I then performed a series of biological tests with various nanomaterials. I evaluated the effects of functionalized silicon nanoparticles in cell and zebrafish exposures and determined that they are a less-toxic alternative to cadmium selenide quantum dots. Then, I tested medically relevant hydroxyapatite nanomaterials, and established that nanoparticle shape affects uptake and toxicity in vivo and in vitro. Using whole animal experiments I determined that nanoparticles could delay or prevent zebrafish hatch, likely due to the inhibition of hatching proteases. Replicating more realistic aquatic environments, I examined whether humic acid, an important component of natural waters, would alter nanoparticle toxicity. The presence of humic acid changed the physicochemical characteristic of nanoparticles, and some biological effects were abrogated, indicating that laboratory toxicity tests might not be representative of effects in the natural environment. Finally, I focused on the physiological and systemic effects of nanoparticles. I determined that silver nanoparticles affects sodium uptake in juvenile trout, and inhibits ionoregulatory transporter activity. I propose that many of the nanoparticle effects seen in biochemical assays, cellular experiments, and whole animal exposures are often related to nanoparticle interactions with proteins, enzymes, dyes, and other biologically-relevant molecules. Importantly, I found that some biological effects could be attributed to nanoparticle-specific properties, as opposed to the bulk or dissolved components. Determining the potential toxic effects caused by nanoparticle exposure and understanding the mechanism by which nanoparticles cause effects will help properly regulate these materials and allow for their safe development and production.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Zhao X, Ong K, Ede JD, Stafford J, Ng KW, Goss GG, Loo SCJ. (2012) Evaluating the toxicity of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in catfish cells and zebrafish embryos. Small, DOI: 10.1002/smll.201200639Ong KJ, Zhao X, Thistle ME, MacCormack TJ, Clark RJ, Ma G, Martinez-Rubi Y, Simard B, Loo JSC, Veinot JGC, Goss GG (2013) Mechanistic insights into the effect of nanoparticles on zebrafish hatch. Nanotoxicology doi:10.3109/17435390.2013.778345Schultz AG, Ong KJ, MacCormack TJ, Ma G, Veinot GC, Goss GG (2013) Silver nanoparticles inhibit sodium uptake in juvenile rainbow trout. Environmental Science and Technology, 46, 10295-10301.

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