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Aquatic toxicity of manufactured nanomaterials: challenges and recommendations for future toxicity testing

Aaron G. Schultz A E , David Boyle A , Danuta Chamot A , Kimberly J. Ong A , Kevin J. Wilkinson B , James C. McGeer C , Geoff Sunahara D and Greg G. Goss A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6E4W1, Canada.

B Department of Chemistry, University of Montreal, PO Box 6128, Succursale Centre-Ville Montreal, QC, H3C 3J7, Canada.

C Biology Department, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3C5, Canada.

D Aquatic and Crop Resource Development, National Research Council of Canada, 6100 Royalmount Avenue, Montreal, QC, H4P 2R2, Canada.

E Corresponding author. Email: ags2@ualberta.ca




Aaron Schultz is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Greg Goss at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is a fish physiologist and aquatic toxicologist and received his B.Sc. (with 1st Class Honours) in 2006 and Ph.D. from Deakin University, Geelong, Australia, in 2010. His primary research interests focus on studying the adaptive mechanisms employed by fish and other aquatic organisms that allow them to survive in constantly changing environments and in response to anthropogenic contaminants such as nanomaterials.



David Boyle is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the research group of Prof. Greg Goss at the University of Alberta, Canada. He received his B.Sc. from the University of Bath, UK, in Applied Biology in 2001 and his M.Sc. in 2003 and Ph.D. in 2008 both from King's College London, UK. After an appointment as a Research Scientist at the National Institute for Nutrition and Seafood Research, Bergen, Norway, he has worked as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the field of aquatic nanotoxicology, firstly at Plymouth University, UK, and since 2012, at the University of Alberta, Canada.



Danuta Chamot is a Senior Research Associate in the laboratory of Prof. Greg Goss in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. She received her B.Sc. in 1988 and M.Sc. in 1990 from the University of Toronto and her Ph.D. in plant molecular biology from the University of Bern (Switzerland) in 1993. She has spent most of her career studying stress-regulated gene expression in aquatic microbes. Since joining the Goss lab, she has been closely involved in research on the physiological and toxicological effects of pollutants on fishes.



Kimberly J. Ong is a graduate of the Biological Sciences Ph.D. program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada in 2013. She earned her B.Sc. in Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Guelph in 2006. Her most recent work focussed on developing and validating appropriate biological testing techniques for nanotoxicity studies, and is also interested in the effects of nanoparticles on fish development, behaviour and physiology.



Kevin J. Wilkinson is Professor at the Université de Montréal. His research is aimed at gaining a molecular level understanding of contaminant bioavailability and mobility. Current projects are examining the nature of the physicochemical processes influencing trace metal bioaccumulation by microorganisms and determinations of the fate (dissolution, aggregation) and bioavailability (bioaccumulation, genomic and proteomic effects) of engineered nanomaterials. Wilkinson is currently an Associate Editor of Environmental Chemistry (2010–) and in the past has edited two volumes of Biophysicochemistry of Environmental Systems. He has over 100 publications, over 4000 citations to his work and an h-index of 40. He has recently established a world-class analytical laboratory specialising in the characterisation of nanomaterials: Center for the Analysis and Characterization of Engineered Nanomaterials (CACEN).



Jim McGeer is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department and Director of the Institute for Water Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. He completed B.Sc. Agr. and M.Sc. degrees at the University of British Columbia and then a Ph.D. at the University of Dundee in 1995. He joined Laurier in 2006 following postdoctoral studies at Ben-Gurion and McMaster Universities and then a period as a federal government scientist and research manager at Mining and Mineral Sciences division of Natural Resources Canada. The McGeer lab is focussed on solutions based research directed at integrating fundamental understandings of how inorganic contaminants impinge on physiological processes in aquatic organisms and the application of this understanding in prediction models that contribute to environmental protection by reducing uncertainty.



Geoffrey Sunahara is a Senior Research Officer at the National Resource Council of Canada (NRC). He received his B.Sc. in 1976 and M.Sc. in 1979, both from the University of Toronto, and his Ph.D. (Pharmaceutical Sciences) in 1984 from the University of British Columbia. He completed a 2-year Fogarty post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH). After working at the Nestec Research Centre (Switzerland) until 1994, he then joined NRC to develop the Applied Ecotoxicology group that focuses on the ecotoxicology of emerging contaminants including nanomaterials, biodiesel and other bioproducts. A major emphasis is made upon innovation, ecological relevance, risk assessment and modes of toxicity.



Prof. Greg Goss is appointed in the Department of Biological Science, Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta with a cross-appointment to the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. He is a fellow of National Institute of Nanotechnology, the Scientific Director of University of Alberta Water Initiative and Director of the Office of Environmental Nanosafety at the University of Alberta. Dr Goss works jointly with industry, governments and academia to examine the environmental toxicology of micropollutants including nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, hydraulic fracturing fluid and hydrocarbon contaminated fluids.

Environmental Chemistry 11(3) 207-226 https://doi.org/10.1071/EN13221
Submitted: 9 December 2013  Accepted: 22 May 2014   Published: 20 June 2014

Environmental context. The increased use of nanomaterials in industrial and consumer products requires robust strategies to identify risks when they are released into the environment. Aquatic toxicologists are beginning to possess a clearer understanding of the chemical and physical properties of nanomaterials in solution, and which of the properties potentially affect the health of aquatic organisms. This review highlights the main challenges encountered in aquatic nanotoxicity testing, provides recommendations for overcoming these challenges, and discusses recent studies that have advanced our understanding of the toxicity of three important OECD nanomaterials, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and silver nanomaterials.

Abstract. Aquatic nanotoxicologists and ecotoxicologists have begun to identify the unique properties of the nanomaterials (NMs) that potentially affect the health of wildlife. In this review the scientific aims are to discuss the main challenges nanotoxicologists currently face in aquatic toxicity testing, including the transformations of NMs in aquatic test media (dissolution, aggregation and small molecule interactions), and modes of NM interference (optical interference, adsorption to assay components and generation of reactive oxygen species) on common toxicity assays. Three of the major OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) priority materials, titanium dioxide (TiO2), zinc oxide (ZnO) and silver (Ag) NMs, studied recently by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Nanotechnology Initiative (NNBNI), a Canadian consortium, have been identified to cause both bulk effect, dissolution-based (i.e. free metal), or NM-specific toxicity in aquatic organisms. TiO2 NMs are most toxic to algae, with toxicity being NM size-dependent and principally associated with binding of the materials to the organism. Conversely, dissolution of Zn and Ag NMs and the subsequent release of their ionic metal counterparts appear to represent the primary mode of toxicity to aquatic organisms for these NMs. In recent years, our understanding of the toxicological properties of these specific OECD relevant materials has increased significantly. Specifically, researchers have begun to alter their experimental design to identify the different behaviour of these materials as colloids and, by introducing appropriate controls and NM characterisation, aquatic nanotoxicologists are now beginning to possess a clearer understanding of the chemical and physical properties of these materials in solution, and how these materials may interact with organisms. Arming nanotoxicologists with this understanding, combined with knowledge of the physics, chemistry and biology of these materials is essential for maintaining the accuracy of all future toxicological assessments.

Additional keywords: nanoparticles, nanotoxicology, silver, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide.


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