Trophic transfer of Au nanoparticles from soil along a simulated terrestrial food chain

Jason M. Unrine, W. Aaron Shoults-Wilson, Oksana Zhurbich, Paul M. Bertsch, Olga V. Tsyusko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


To determine if nanoparticles (NPs) could be transferred from soil media to invertebrates and then to secondary consumers, we examined the trophic transfer of Au NPs along a simulated terrestrial food chain. Earthworms (Eisenia fetida) were exposed to Au NPs in artificial soil media and fed to juvenile bullfrogs (Rana catesbeina). Earthworm Au concentrations were continuously monitored so that the cumulative dose to bullfrogs could be accurately estimated throughout the experiment. We exposed a second group of bullfrogs to equivalent doses of Au NPs by oral gavage to compare the bioavailability of NPs through direct exposure to trophic exposure. We observed accumulation of Au in liver, kidney, spleen, muscle, stomach, and intestine in both treatment groups. Tissue concentrations decreased on average of approximately 100-fold with each trophic-step. The total assimilated dose averaged only 0.09% of the administered dose for direct exposure (oral gavage), but 0.12% for the trophic exposure. The results suggest that manufactured NPs present in soil may be taken up into food chains and transferred to higher order consumers. They also suggest that Au NPs may be more bioavailable through trophic exposure than direct exposure and that trophic transfer may influence the biodistribution of particles once absorbed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9753-9760
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 4 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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