Properties of silver nanoparticles influencing their uptake in and toxicity to the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus following exposure in soil

Makama, Sunday; Piella, Jordi; Undas, Anna; Dimmers, Wim J.; Peters, Ruud; Puntes, Victor F.; Brink, Nico W. van den


Physicochemical properties of nanoparticles influence their environmental fate and toxicity, and studies investigating this are vital for a holistic approach towards a comprehensive and adequate environmental risk assessment. In this study, we investigated the effects of size, surface coating (charge) of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) - a most commonly-used nanoparticle-type, on the bioaccumulation in, and toxicity (survival, growth, cocoon production) to the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus. AgNPs were synthesized in three sizes: 20, 35 and 50 nm. Surface-coating with bovine serum albumin (AgNP_BSA), chitosan (AgNP_Chit), or polyvinylpyrrolidone (AgNP_PVP) produced negative, positive and neutral particles respectively. In a 28-day sub-chronic reproduction toxicity test, earthworms were exposed to these AgNPs in soil (0-250 mg Ag/kg soil DW). Earthworms were also exposed to AgNO3 at concentrations below known EC50. Total Ag tissue concentration indicated uptake by earthworms was generally highest for the AgNP_BSA especially at the lower exposure concentration ranges, and seems to reach a plateau level between 50 and 100 mg Ag/kg soil DW. Reproduction was impaired at high concentrations of all AgNPs tested, with AgNP_BSA particles being the most toxic. The EC50 for the 20 nm AgNP_BSA was 66.8 mg Ag/kg soil, with exposure to AgNP_PVP (neutral) > Chitosan (positive). Size had an influence on uptake and toxicity of the AgNP_PVP, but not for AgNP_BSA nor AgNP_Chit. This study provides essential information on the role of physicochemical properties of AgNPs in influencing uptake by a terrestrial organism L. rubellus under environmentally relevant conditions. It also provides evidence of the influence of surface coating (charge) and the limited effect of size in the range of 20-50 nm, in driving uptake and toxicity of the AgNPs tested.