Long-term toxicity of surface-charged polystyrene nanoplastics to marine planktonic species Dunaliella tertiolecta and Artemia franciscana

Plastic pollution has been globally recognized as a critical issue for marine ecosystems and nanoplastics constitute one of the last unexplored areas to understand the magnitude of this threat. However, current difficulties in sampling and identifying nano-sized debris make hard to assess their occurrence in marine environment. Polystyrene nanoparticles (PS NPs) are largely used as nanoplastics in ecotoxicological studies and although acute exposures have been already investigated, long-term toxicity on marine organisms is unknown. Our study aims at evaluating the effects of 40 nm PS anionic carboxylated (PS-COOH) and 50 nm cationic amino-modified (PS-NH2) NPs in two planktonic species, the green microalga Dunaliella tertiolecta and the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana, respectively prey and predator. PS NP behaviour in exposure media was determined through DLS, while their toxicity to microalgae and brine shrimps evaluated through 72 h growth inhibition test and 14 d long-term toxicity test respectively. Moreover, the expression of target genes (i.e. clap and cstb), having a role in brine shrimp larval growth and molting, was measured in 48 h brine shrimp larvae. A different behaviour of the two PS NPs in exposure media as well as diverse toxicity to the two planktonic species was observed. PS-COOH formed micro-scale aggregates (Z-Average > 1 μm) and did not affect the growth of microalgae up to 50 μg/ml or that of brine shrimps up to 10 μg/ml. However, these negatively charged NPs were adsorbed on microalgae and accumulated (and excreted) in brine shrimps, suggesting a potential trophic transfer from prey to predator. On the opposite, PS-NH2-formed nano-scale aggregates (Z-Average < 200 nm), caused inhibition of algal growth (EC50 = 12.97 μg/ml) and mortality in brine shrimps at 14 d (LC50 = 0.83 μg/ml). Moreover, 1 μg/ml PS-NH2 significantly induced clap and cstb genes, explaining the physiological alterations (e.g. increase in molting) previously observed in 48 h larvae, but also suggesting an apoptotic pathway triggered by cathepsin L-like protease in brine shrimps upon PS-NH2 exposure. These findings provide a first insight into long-term toxicity of nanoplastics to marine plankton, underlining the role of the surface chemistry in determining the behaviour and effects of PS NPs, in terms of adsorption, growth inhibition, accumulation, gene modulation and mortality. The use of long-term end-point has been identified as valuable tool for assessing the impact of nanoplastics on marine planktonic species, being more predictable of real exposure scenarios for risk assessment purposes.

E. Bergami, S. Pugnalini, M.L. Vannuccini, L. Manfra, C. Faleri, F. Savorelli, K.A. Dawson, I. Corsi, Aquatic Toxicology, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 189, August 2017, Pages 159–169

The article

The toxicity of plastic nanoparticles to green algae as influenced by surface modification, medium hardness and cellular adsorption

To investigate processes possibly underlying accumulation and ecological effects of plastic nano-particles we have characterized their interaction with the cell wall of green algae. More specifically, we have investigated the influence of particle surface functionality and water hardness (Ca2+ concentration) on particle adsorption to algae cell walls. Polystyrene nanoparticles with different functional groups (non-functionalized, −COOH and −NH2) as well as coated (starch and PEG) gold nanoparticles were applied in these studies. Depletion measurements and atomic force microscopy (AFM) showed that adsorption of neutral and positively charged plastic nanoparticles onto the cell wall of P. subcapitata was stronger than that of negatively charged plastic particles. Results indicated that binding affinity is a function of both inter-particle and particle-cell wall interactions which are in turn influenced by the medium hardness and particle concentration. Physicochemical modelling using DLVO theory was used to interpret the experimental data, using also values for interfacial surface free energies. Our study shows that material properties and medium conditions play a crucial role in the rate and state of nanoparticle bio-adsorption for green algae. The results show that the toxicity of nanoparticles can be better described and assessed by using appropriate dose metrics including material properties, complexation/agglomeration behavior and cellular attachment and adsorption. The applied methodology provides an efficient and feasible approach for evaluating potential accumulation and hazardous effects of nanoparticles to algae caused by particle interactions with the algae cell walls.

Tom M. Nolte , Nanna B. Hartmann, J. Mieke Kleijn, Jørgen Garnæs, Dik van de Meent, A. Jan Hendriks, Anders Baun, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 183, February 2017, Pages 11–20

The article

Toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum: Interactions between microplastic and algae

To investigate toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum, both algal growth inhibition test and non-contact shading test were carried out, and algal photosynthesis parameters were also determined. The SEM images were used to observe interactions between microplastic and algae. It was found that microplastic (mPVC, average diameter 1 μm) had obvious inhibition on growth of microalgae and the maximum growth inhibition ratio (IR) reached up to 39.7% after 96 h exposure. However, plastic debris (bPVC, average diameter 1 mm) had no effects on growth of microalgae. High concentration (50 mg/L) mPVC also had negative effects on algal photosynthesis since both chlorophyll content and photosynthetic efficiency (ΦPSⅡ) decreased under mPVC treatments. Shading effect was not one reason for toxicity of microplastic on algae in this study. Compared with non-contact shading effect, interactions between microplastic and microalage such as adsorption and aggregation were more reasonable explanations for toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae. The SEM images provided a more direct and reasonable method to observe the behaviors of microplastic.

Cai Zhang, Xiaohua Chen, Jiangtao Wang, Liju Tan, Environmental Pollution, Volume 220, Part B, January 2017, Pages 1282–1288

The article

Microplastic interactions with freshwater microalgae: Hetero-aggregation and changes in plastic density appear strongly dependent on polymer type

In this study, the interactions between microplastics, chosen among the most widely used in industry such as polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and a model freshwater microalgae, Chlamydomas reinhardtii, were investigated. It was shown that the presence of high concentrations of microplastics with size >400 μm did not directly impact the growth of microalgae in the first days of contact and that the expression of three genes involved in the stress response was not modified after 78 days. In parallel, a similar colonization was observed for the two polymers. However, after 20 days of contact, in the case of PP only, hetero-aggregates constituted of microalgae, microplastics and exopolysaccharides were formed. An estimation of the hetero-aggregates composition was approximately 50% of PP fragments and 50% of microalgae, which led to a final density close to 1.2. Such hetero-aggregates appear as an important pathway for the vertical transport of PP microplastics from the water surface to sediment. Moreover, after more than 70 days of contact with microplastics, the microalgae genes involved in the sugar biosynthesis pathways were strongly over-expressed compared to control conditions. The levels of over-expression were higher in the case of HDPE than in PP condition. This work presents the first evidence that depending on their chemical nature, microplastics will follow different fates in the environment.

Fabienne Lagarde, Ophélie Olivier, Marie Zanella, Philippe Daniel, Sophie Hiard, Aurore Caruso, Environmental Pollution, Volume 215, Pages 331–339, August 2016

The article

Single and combined effects of microplastics and copper on the population growth of the marine microalgae Tetraselmis chuii

As the accumulation of microplastics continues to rise in the marine environment, more knowledge on their potential toxic effects on marine organisms is needed to assess their risks to environmental and human health. Thus, the goal of the present study was to investigate the effects of fluorescent red polyethylene plastic micro-spheres 1–5 μm diameter (used as microplastic model and hereafter indicated as MP), alone and in mixture with copper, on the population growth of the marine microalgae Tetraselmis chuii. Two null hypotheses were tested: (H01) Exposure to MP concentrations in ppb range does not affect the average specific growth rate of T. chuii; (H02) MP do not interact with the toxicity of copper to T. chuii. In laboratory bioassays, T. chuii cultures were exposed for 96 h to MP concentrations ranging from 0.046 to 1.472 mg/l), concentrations of copper alone ranging from 0.02 to 0.64 mg/l, and the same concentrations of copper in the presence of 0.184 mg/l of MP in test media. No significant effects of MP on T. chuii population growth were found (p > 0.05), leading to the acceptance of H01. Copper alone significantly decreased the population growth of T. chuii with EC10, EC20 and EC50 of 0.009, 0.023 and 0.139 mg/l, respectively. The corresponding values in the presence of MP were 0.012, 0.029 and 0.145 mg/l, respectively. Moreover, the study found no significant differences between the toxicity curves of copper in the presence and absence of MP (p > 0.05), leading to the acceptance of H02. Despite these findings, because microplastics are known to adsorb and accumulate copper, aged pellets more than virgin ones, and the toxicity of smaller particles may be higher, further studies on the combined effects of copper and microplastics on microalgae should be performed, especially under long-term exposures to nano-sized aged microplastics.


Elham Davarpanah, Lúcia Guilhermino, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Volume 167, Part A, Pages 269–275, 20 December 2015

The article


Do plastic particles affect microalgal photosynthesis and growth ?

The unbridled increase in plastic pollution of the world’s oceans raises concerns about potential effects these materials may have on microalgae, which are primary producers at the basis of the food chain and a major global source of oxygen. Our current understanding about the potential modes and mechanisms of toxic action that plastic particles exert on microalgae is extremely limited. How effects might vary with particle size and the physico-chemical properties of the specific plastic material in question is equally unelucidated, but may hold clues to how toxicity, if observed, is exerted. In this study we selected polystyrene particles, both negatively charged and uncharged, and three different sizes (0.05, 0.5 and 6 μm) for testing the effects of size and material properties. Microalgae were exposed to different polystyrene particle sizes and surface charges for 72 h. Effects on microalgal photosynthesis and growth were determined by pulse amplitude modulation fluorometry and flow cytometry, respectively. None of the treatments tested in these experiments had an effect on microalgal photosynthesis. Microalgal growth was negatively affected (up to 45%) by uncharged polystyrene particles, but only at high concentrations (250 mg/L). Additionally, these adverse effects were demonstrated to increase with decreasing particle size.

Sascha B. Sjollema, Paula Redondo-Hasselerharm, Heather A. Leslie, Michiel H.S. Kraak, A. Dick Vethaak, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 170, Pages 259–261, January 2016

The article


Acute and chronic toxic effects of bisphenol a on Chlorella pyrenoidosa and Scenedesmus obliquus

The acute and chronic toxic effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) on Chlorella pyrenoidosa (C. pyrenoidosa) and Scenedesmus obliquus (S. obliquus) were not well understood. The indoor experiments were carried out to observe and analyze the BPA-induced changes. Results of the observations showed that in acute tests BPA could significantly inhibit the growth of both algae, whereas chronic exposure hardly displayed similar trend. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) and Catalase (CAT) activities of both algae were promoted in all the treatments. Chlorophyll a synthesis of the two algae exhibited similar inhibitory trend in short-term treatments, and in chronic tests C. pyrenoidosa hardly resulted in visible influence, whereas in contrast, dose-dependent inhibitory effects of S. obliquus could be clearly observed. The experimental results indicated that the growth and Chlorophyll a syntheses of S.obliquus were more sensitive in response to BPA than that of C. pyrenoidosa, whereas for SOD andCAT activities, C. pyrenoidosa was more susceptible. This research provides a basic understanding of BPA toxicity to aquatic organisms. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Wei Zhang, Bang Xiong, Wen-Fang Sun and al., Environmental Toxicology, Volume 29, Issue 6, pages 714–722, June 2014

The article