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Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Mar 6;52(5):3185-3194. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05629. Epub 2018 Feb 15.

Synergistic Bacterial Stress Results from Exposure to Nano-Ag and Nano-TiO2 Mixtures under Light in Environmental Media.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering , Northwestern University , 2145 Sheridan Road , Evanston , Illinois 60208 , United States.


Due to their widespread use and subsequent release, engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) will create complex mixtures and emergent systems in the natural environment where their chemical interactions may cause toxic stress to microorganisms. We previously showed that under dark conditions n-TiO2 attenuated bacterial stress caused by low concentrations of n-Ag (<20 μg L-1) due to Ag+ adsorption, yet, since both n-Ag and n-TiO2 are photoactive, their photochemistries may play a key role in their interactions. In this work, we study the chemical interactions of n-Ag and n-TiO2 mixtures in a natural aqueous medium under simulated solar irradiation to investigate photoinduced stress. Using ATP levels and cell membrane integrity as probes, we observe that n-Ag and n-TiO2 together exert synergistic toxic stress in Escherichia coli. We find increased production of hydrogen peroxide by the n-Ag/n-TiO2 mixture, revealing that the enhanced photocatalytic activity and production of ROS likely contribute to the stress response observed. Based on STEM-EDS evidence, we propose that a new composite Ag/TiO2 nanomaterial forms under these conditions and explains the synergistic effects of the ENM mixture. Overall, this work reveals that environmental transformations of ENM mixtures under irradiation can enhance biological stress beyond that of individual components.

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