Evidence for bioavailability of Au nanoparticles from soil and biodistribution within earthworms (Eisenia fetida)

Jason M. Unrine, Simona E. Hunyadi, Olga V. Tsyusko, William Rao, W. Aaron Shoults-Wilson, Paul M. Bertsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Because Au nanoparticles (NPs) are resistant to oxidative dissolution and are easily detected, they have been used as stable probes for the behavior of nanomaterials within biological systems. Previous studies provide somewhat limited evidence for bioavailability of Au NPs in food webs, because the spatial distribution within tissues and the speciation of Au was not determined. In this study, we provide multiple lines of evidence, including orthogonal microspectroscopic techniques, as well as evidence from biological responses, that Au NPs are bioavailable from soil to a model detritivore (Eisenia fetida). We also present limited evidence that Au NPs may cause adverse effects on earthworm reproduction. This is perhaps the first study to demonstrate that Au NPs can be taken up by detritivores from soil and distributed among tissues. We found that primary particle size (20 or 55 nm) did not consistently influence accumulated concentrations on a mass concentration basis; however, on a particle number basis the 20 nm particles were more bioavailable. Differences in bioavailability between the treatments may have been explained by aggregation behavior in pore water. The results suggest that nanoparticles present in soil from activities such as biosolids application have the potential to enter terrestrial food webs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8308-8313
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Sep 24 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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