Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Dr. Paul M Bertsch


Manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs) from the rapidly increasing number of consumer products that contain MNMs are being discharged into waste streams. Increasing evidence suggests that several classes of MNMs may accumulate in sludge derived from wastewater treatment and ultimately in soil following land application as biosolids. Little research has been conducted to evaluate the impact of MNMs on terrestrial ecosystems, despite the fact that land application of biosolids from wastewater treatment will be a major pathway for the introduction of MNMs to the environment. To begin addressing this knowledge gap, we have conducted a series of experiments designed to test how bioavailable MNMs are to terrestrial ecoreceptors when exposed through a variety of pathways.

First, we used the model organisms Nicotiana tabacum L. cv Xanthi (tobacco) and Triticum aestivum (wheat) to investigate plant uptake of 10, 30 and 50 nm diameter gold (Au) MNMs coated with either tannate (T-MNMs) or citrate (C-MNMs). Both C-MNMs and T-MNMs of each size treatment bioaccumulated in tobacco, but no bioaccumulation of MNMs was observed for any treatment in wheat.

In a second exposure, we investigated the potential for bioaccumulation of MNMs from contaminated plant surfaces by a terrestrial secondary consumer, tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). We found that hornworms bioaccumulate Au MNMs, but that the assimilation efficiency of bioaccumulation was low. Hornworms eliminate ingested Au MNMs rapidly from 0-24 h, but very slowly from 1 d to 7 d.

Finally, we used the model organisms tobacco and tobacco hornworm to investigate the potential for trophic transfer of Au MNMs. Biomagnification of Au MNMs was observed in the hornworms.

We have demonstrated that MNMs of a wide range of size and with different surface chemistries are bioavailable to plants, that MNMs resuspended by wind, rain, biota, and mechanical disturbance from soil onto plant surfaces are bioavailable to terrestrial consumers, and that trophic transfer and biomagnification of plant accumulated MNMs can occur. These results have important implications for risks associated with nanotechnology, including the potential for human exposure.