Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Olga Tsyusko

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Bertsch


In recent decades, there has been a rapid expansion in the use of manufactured nanoparticles (MNPs). Experimental evidence and material flow models predict that MNPs enter wastewater treatment plants and partition to sewage sludge and majority of that sludge is land applied as biosolids. During wastewater treatment and after land application, MNPs undergo biogeochemical transformations (aging). The primary transformation process for silver MNPs (Ag-MNPs) is sulfidation, while zinc oxide MNPs (ZnO-MNPs) most likely undergo phosphatation and sulfidation. Our overall goal was to assess bioavailability and toxicogenomic impacts of both pristine, defined as-synthesized, and aged Ag- and ZnO-MNPs, as well as their respective ions, to a model organism, the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

We first investigated the toxicity of pristine Ag-MNPs, sulfidized Ag-MNPs (sAg-MNPs), and AgNO3 to identify the most sensitive ecologically relevant endpoint in C. elegans. We identified reproduction as the most sensitive endpoint for all treatments with sAg-MNPs being about 10-fold less toxic than pristine Ag-MNPs. Using synchrotron x-ray microspectroscopy we demonstrated that AgNO3 and pristine Ag-MNPs had similar bioavailability while aged sAg-MNPs caused toxicity without being taken up by C. elegans. Comparisons of the genomic impacts of both MNPs revealed that Ag-MNPs and sAg-MNPs have transcriptomic profiles distinct from each other and from AgNO3. The toxicity mechanisms of sAg-MNPs are possibly associated with damaging effects to cuticle.

We also investigated the effects pristine zinc oxide MNPs (ZnO-MNPs) and aged ZnO-MNPs, including phosphatated (pZnO-MNPs) and sulfidized (sZnO-MNPs), as well as ZnSO4 have on C. elegans using a toxicogenomic approach. Aging of ZnO-MNPs reduced toxicity nearly 10-fold. Toxicity of pristine ZnO-MNPs was similar to the toxicity caused by ZnSO4 but less than 30% of responding genes was shared between these two treatments. This suggests that some of the effects of pristine ZnO-MNPs are also particle-specific. The genomic results showed that based on Gene Ontology and induced biological pathways all MNP treatments shared more similarities than any MNP treatment did with ZnSO4.

This dissertation demonstrates that the toxicity of Ag- and ZnO-MNPs to C. elegans is reduced and operates through different mechanisms after transformation during the wastewater treatment process.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)