Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Environmental Health Sciences


The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Anindya Chanda


The manufacture and usage of silver nanoparticles has drastically increased in recent years (Fabrega et al. 2011a). Hence, the levels of nanoparticles released into the environment through various routes have measurably increased and therefore are concern to the environment and to public health (Panyala, Peña-Méndez and Havel 2008). Previous studies have shown that silver nanoparticles are toxic to various organisms such as bacteria (Kim et al. 2007), fungi (Kim et al. 2008), aquatic plants (He, DorantesAranda and Waite 2012a), arthropods (Khan et al. 2015), and mammalian cells (Asharani, Hande and Valiyaveettil 2009) etc. Most of the toxicity studies are carried out using higher concentrations or lethal doses of silver nanoparticles. However, there is no information available on how the fungal community reacts to the silver nanoparticles at nontoxic concentrations. In this study, we have investigated the effect of citrate coated silver nanoparticles (AgNp-cit) at a size of 20nm on Aspergillus parasiticus, a popular plant pathogen and well-studied model for secondary metabolism (natural product synthesis). A. parasiticus produces 4 major types of aflatoxins. Among other aflatoxins, aflatoxin B1 is considered to be one of most potent naturally occurring liver carcinogen, and is associated with an estimated 155,000 liver cancer cases globally (Liu and Wu 2010); therefore, contaminated food and feed are a significant risk factor for liver cancer in humans and animals (CAST 2003; Liu and Wu 2010).

In this study, we have demonstrated the uptake of AgNp-cit (20nm) by A. parasiticus cells from the growth medium using a time course ICP-OES experiment. It was observed that the uptake of AgNp-cit had no effect on fungal growth and significantly decreased intracellular oxidative stress. It also down-regulated aflatoxin biosynthesis at the level of gene expression of aflatoxin pathway genes and the global regulatory genes of secondary metabolism. We also observed that the fungus successfully reverts its aflatoxin biosynthesis to normal levels once the level of AgNp-cit decreased significantly in the growth medium. A stability study of AgNp-cit in the fungal growth medium, along with mycelia, was conducted using UV-vis spectroscopy. The result showed that the distinctive peak (at 395nm wavelength) of silver nanoparticles, size of 20nm, shifted to a higher wavelength (400nm-500nm), broadened, and decreased over time. At 30-hour post inoculation the UV-vis peak at 395 nm wavelength was not observed at all. The peak shifts may occur due to organic molecules from the medium replacing the citrate surface coating. Another possible explanation for the peak shift are the interactions between the surface coating and other inorganic components in the medium. Peak broadening may suggest possible aggregation or formation of corona on the surface of AgNp due to particle-protein interactions (leading to AgNp aggregation in the growth medium). Reduction of peak height may suggest nanoparticle uptake by the mycelia, dissolution of nanoparticles into charged ions as well as possible interaction with other ions in the growth medium or the formation of precipitate of silver salt.

We have investigated effects of different sizes (15 nm, 20 nm, and 30 nm) of AgNp-cit and pvp coated silver nanoparticles (AgNp-pvp (20 nm)) on growth and aflatoxin B1 biosynthesis in A. parasiticus. AgNp-cit size of 15nm showed maximum aflatoxin inhibition at 25ng/mL. For 20nm and 30nm AgNp-cit the strongest aflatoxin inhibition was observed at 50ng/mL concentration. The aflatoxin inhibitory effect was also found to be AgNp coating dependent. For 20nm AgNp-cit the strongest aflatoxin inhibition was seen at 50ng/mL (calculated) while for 20nm AgNp-pvp, the maximum aflatoxin inhibition was observed at 60ng/mL (calculated) concentration. Acute toxicity of silver nanoparticles on various organisms are well-studied but large knowledge gap still exist on the assessment of its chronic toxicity at low concentrations. Our study suggested that at low concentrations (ng/mL) AgNp still can produce biological effects on fungal cells. Further understanding of AgNp induced biological effects at low concentrations/environmentally relevant concentrations is necessary in investigating the environmental health effects.