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Nat Nanotechnol. 2011 Jan;6(1):65-71. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2010.251. Epub 2010 Dec 19.

Biomagnification of cadmium selenide quantum dots in a simple experimental microbial food chain.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-9625, USA.


Previous studies have shown that engineered nanomaterials can be transferred from prey to predator, but the ecological impacts of this are mostly unknown. In particular, it is not known if these materials can be biomagnified-a process in which higher concentrations of materials accumulate in organisms higher up in the food chain. Here, we show that bare CdSe quantum dots that have accumulated in Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria can be transferred to and biomagnified in the Tetrahymena thermophila protozoa that prey on the bacteria. Cadmium concentrations in the protozoa predator were approximately five times higher than their bacterial prey. Quantum-dot-treated bacteria were differentially toxic to the protozoa, in that they inhibited their own digestion in the protozoan food vacuoles. Because the protozoa did not lyse, largely intact quantum dots remain available to higher trophic levels. The observed biomagnification from bacterial prey is significant because bacteria are at the base of environmental food webs. Our findings illustrate the potential for biomagnification as an ecological impact of nanomaterials.

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