The tolerance of a Rhodococcus drinking water isolate and Zoogloea ramigera to silver nanoparticles in biofilm and planktonic cultures
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Spurred by a host of beneficial uses, the global use of nanoparticles is rapidly growing. Silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) are used widely in consumer products, medicine, and the semiconductor industry. As nanoparticles become more commonly used, the transport of nanoparticles into the environment might negatively affect microorganisms in natural and engineered systems. The effects of Ag NPs on microorganisms have primarily been studied in planktonic or free-swimming cultures, but little work has been done to look at biofilm susceptibility to Ag NPs. This thesis describes bacterial tolerance, or the ability of an organism to survive exposure to an insult, to Ag NPs. The tolerance of planktonic and biofilm cells of the common wastewater treatment bacterium Zoogloea ramigera and a Rhodococcus strain isolated from drinking water was tested. These bacteria were exposed to different concentrations of Ag NPs, ranging from 0 to 25 mg/L, for a period of 5 hours. Results showed decreased tolerance with increasing Ag NP concentrations for both bacterial species. Z. ramigera biofilm cells are slightly more tolerant to Ag NPs than are planktonic cells. On the other hand, Rhodococcus planktonic and biofilm cells exhibit similar tolerance. However, in both cases, biofilm cells do not exhibit a striking protective effect against Ag NPs as compared to planktonic cells. This study shows that even short-term insults with Ag NPs can affect bacteria in engineered systems. A preliminary study of the shedding of free silver ions as a possible mechanism of Ag NP toxicity demonstrated that free silver ions were toxic to Escherichia coli in a 0.14M chloride environment. The data suggest that free silver ions can be pulled into solution from Ag NPs in chloride environments via ligand-promoted dissolution. Further work is needed to examine the antibacterial mechanism of Ag NPs against planktonic and biofilm cells to better understand how the release of nanoparticles into the environment can affect microorganisms in natural and engineered water systems.