Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 87, Issue 2, pp 371-382

First online:

Chemical dispersant potentiates crude oil impacts on growth, reproduction, and gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans

  • Yanqiong ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Dongliang ChenAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Adrien C. EnnisAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Joseph R. PolliAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Peng XiaoAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, East Carolina University
  • , Baohong ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Edmund J. StellwagAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Anthony OvertonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University
  • , Xiaoping PanAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, East Carolina University Email author 

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The economic, environmental, and human health impacts of the deepwater horizon (DWH) oil spill have been of significant concern in the general public and among scientists. This study employs parallel experiments to test the effects of crude oil from the DWH oil well, chemical dispersant Corexit 9500A, and dispersant-oil mixture on growth and reproduction in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Both the crude oil and the dispersant significantly inhibited the reproduction of C. elegans. Dose-dependent inhibitions of hatched larvae production were observed in worms exposed to both crude oil and dispersant. Importantly, the chemical dispersant Corexit 9500A potentiated crude oil effects; dispersant-oil mixture induced more significant effects than oil or dispersant-alone exposures. While oil-alone exposure and dispersant-alone exposure have none to moderate inhibitory effects on hatched larvae production, respectively, the mixture of dispersant and oil induced much more significant inhibition of offspring production. The production of hatched larvae was almost completely inhibited by several high concentrations of the dispersant-oil mixture. This suggests a sensitive bioassay for future investigation of oil/dispersant impacts on organisms. We also investigated the effects of crude oil/dispersant exposure at the molecular level by measuring the expressions of 31 functional genes. Results showed that the dispersant and the dispersant-oil mixture induced aberrant expressions of 12 protein-coding genes (cat-4, trxr-2, sdhb-1, lev-8, lin-39, unc-115, prdx-3, sod-1, acr-16, ric-3, unc-68, and acr-8). These 12 genes are associated with a variety of biological processes, including egg-laying, oxidative stress, muscle contraction, and neurological functions. In summary, the toxicity potentiating effect of chemical dispersant must be taken into consideration in future crude oil cleanup applications.


Deepwater horizon (DWH) oil spill C. elegans Toxicity Growth Reproduction Gene expression