Toxicity of silver nanoparticles against bacteria, yeast, and algae

  • Loredana S. Dorobantu
  • Clara Fallone
  • Adam J. Noble
  • Jonathan Veinot
  • Guibin Ma
  • Greg G. Goss
  • Robert E. Burrell
Research Paper


The toxicity mechanism employed by silver nanoparticles against microorganisms has captivated scientists for nearly a decade and remains a debatable issue. The question most frequently asked is whether silver nanoparticles exert specific effects on microorganisms beyond the well-documented antimicrobial activity of Ag+. Here, we study the effects of citrate- (d = 17.5 ± 9.4 nm) and 11-mercaptoundecanoic acid (d = 38.8 ± 3.6 nm)-capped silver nanoparticles on microorganisms belonging to various genera. The antimicrobial effect of Ag+ was distinguished from that of nanosilver by monitoring microbial growth in the presence and absence of nanoparticles and by careful comparison of the responses of equimolar silver nitrate solution. The results show that when using equimolar silver solutions, silver nitrate has higher toxic potential on all microorganisms than both nanoparticles tested. Furthermore, some microorganisms are more susceptible to silver than others and the choice of capping agent is relevant in the toxicity. Atomic force microscopy disclosed that AgNO3 had a destructive effect on algae. The antimicrobial activity of nanosilver could be exploited to prevent microbial colonization of medical devices and to determine the fate of nanoparticles in the environment.


Silver nanoparticles Bacteria Yeast Algae Physicochemical characterization Environmental and health effects 



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the NRC-NSERC-EC-BDC Nanotechnology Initiative Grant.

Supplementary material

11051_2015_2984_MOESM1_ESM.docx (515 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 516 kb)


  1. Asharani PV, Wu YL, Gong Z, Valiyaveettil S (2008) Toxicity of silver nanoparticles in zebrafish models. Nanotechnology 19:255102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bowman CR, Bailey FC, Elrod-Erickson M, Neigh AM, Otter RR (2012) Effects of silver nanoparticles on zebrafish (Danio rerio) and Escherichia coli (ATCC 25922): a comparison of toxicity based on total surface area versus mass concentration of particles in a model eukaryotic and prokaryotic system. Environ Toxicol Chem 31:1793–1800CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dorobantu LD, Bhattacharjee S, Foght JM, Gray MR (2008) Atomic force microscopy measurement of heterogeneity in bacterial surface hydrophobicity. Langmuir 24:4944–4951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Fabrega J, Renshaw JC, Lead JR (2009) Interactions of silver nanoparticles with Pseudomonas putida biofilms. Environ Sci Technol 43:9004–9009CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Feng Q, Wu J, Chen G, Cui F, Kim T, Kim J (2000) A mechanistic study of the antibacterial effect of silver ions on Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. J Biomed Mater Res 52:662–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fubini B, Fenoglio I, Tomatis M, Turci F (2011) Effect of chemical composition and state of the surface on the toxic response to high aspect ratio nanomaterials. Nanomedicine 6:899–920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gubbins EJ, Batty LC, Lead JR (2011) Phytotoxicity of silver nanoparticles to Lemna minor. Environ Pollut 159:1551–1559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hotze EM, Phenrat T, Lowry GV (2010) Nanoparticle aggregation: challenges to understanding transport and reactivity in the environment. J Environ Qual 39:1909–1924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kittler S, Greulich C, Diendorf J, Koeller M, Epple M (2010) Toxicity of silver nanoparticles increases during storage because of slow dissolution under release of silver ions. Chem Mater 22:4548–4554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Levard C, Hotze EM, Lowry GV, Brown GE Jr (2012) Environmental transformations of silver nanoparticles: impact on stability and toxicity. Environ Sci Technol 46:6900–6914CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Liu J, Hurt RH (2010) Ion release kinetics and particle persistence in aqueous nano-silver colloids. Environ Sci Technol 44:2169–2175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ma S, Lin D (2013) The biophysicochemical interactions at the interfaces between nanoparticles and aquatic organisms: adsorption and internalization. Environ Sci Process Impacts 15:145–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. MacCormack TJ, Goss GG (2008) Identifying and predicting biological risks associated with manufactured nanoparticles in aquatic ecosystems. J Ind Ecol 12:286–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Madigan MT, Martinko JM, Bender K, Buckley DP, Stahl DA (2012) Brock biology of microorganisms, 12th edn. Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  15. Marcus IM, Herzberg M, Walker SL, Freger V (2012) Pseudomonas aeruginosa attachment on QCM-D sensors: the role of cell and surface hydrophobicities. Langmuir 28:6396–6402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Martinez-Gutierrez F, Thi EP, Silverman JM, de Oliveira CC, Svensson SL, Hoek AV, Sanchez EM, Reiner NE, Gaynor EC, Pryzdial ELG, Conway EM, Orrantia E, Ruiz F, Av-Gay Y, Bach H (2012) Antibacterial activity, inflammatory response, coagulation and cytotoxicity effects of silver nanoparticles. Nanomedicine 8:328–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Maurer-Jones MA, Gunsolus IL, Murphy CJ, Haynes CL (2013) Toxicity of engineered nanoparticles in the environment. Anal Chem 85:3036–3049CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Miao AJ, Schwehr KA, Xu C, Zhang SJ, Luo ZP, Quigg A, Santschi PH (2009) The algal toxicity of silver engineered nanoparticles and detoxification by exopolymeric substances. Environ Pollut 157:3034–3041CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Monteiro DR, Silva S, Negri M, Gorup LF, de Camargo ER, Oliveira R, Barbosa DB, Henriques M (2012) Silver nanoparticles: influence of stabilizing agent and diameter on antifungal activity against Candida albicans and Candida glabrata biofilms. Lett Appl Microbiol 54:383–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Navarro E, Piccapietra F, Wagner B, Marconi F, Kaegi R, Odzak N, Sigg L, Behra R (2008) Toxicity of silver nanoparticles to Chlamydomonas Reinhardtii. Environ Sci Technol 42:8959–8964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Neal AL (2008) What can be inferred from bacterium-nanoparticle interactions about the potential consequences of environmental exposure to nanoparticles? Ecotoxicology 17:362–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nel A, Xia T, Madler L, Li N (2006) Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel. Science 311:622–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pace HE, Lesher EK, Ranville JF (2010) Influence of stability on the acute toxicity of CdSe/ZnS nanocrystals to Daphnia Magna. Environ Toxicol Chem 29:1338–1344Google Scholar
  24. Pal S, Tak YK, Song JM (2007) Does the antibacterial activity of silver nanoparticles depend on the shape of the nanoparticle? A study of the gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli. Appl Environ Microbiol 73:1712–1720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Roh J, Sim SJ, Yi J, Park K, Chung KH, Ryu D, Choi J (2009) Ecotoxicity of silver nanoparticles on the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans using functional ecotoxicogenomics. Environ Sci Technol 43:3933–3940CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schacht VJ, Neumann LV, Sandhi SK, Chen L, Henning T, Klar PJ, Theophel K, Schnell S, Bunge M (2013) Effects of silver nanoparticles on microbial growth dynamics. J Appl Microbiol 114:25–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shahverdi AR, Fakhimi A, Shahverdi HR, Minaian S (2007) Synthesis and effect of silver nanoparticles on the antibacterial activity of different antibiotics against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Nanomedicine 3:168–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sondi I, Salopek-Sondi B (2004) Silver nanoparticles as antimicrobial agent: a case study on E. coli as a model for gram-negative bacteria. J Colloid Interface Sci 275:177–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tan S, Erol M, Attygalle A, Du H, Sukhishvili S (2007) Synthesis of positively charged silver nanoparticles via photoreduction of AgNO3 in branched polyethyleneimine/HEPES solutions. Langmuir 23:9836–9843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tolaymat TM, El Badawy AM, Genaidy A, Scheckel KG, Luxton TP, Suidan M (2010) An evidence-based environmental perspective of manufactured silver nanoparticle in syntheses and applications: a systematic review and critical appraisal of peer-reviewed scientific papers. Sci Total Environ 408:999–1006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wright JB, Hansen DL, Burrell RE (1998) The comparative efficacy of two antimicrobial barrier dressings: in-vitro examination of two controlled release of silver dressings. Wounds 10:179–188Google Scholar
  32. Xiu Z, Zhang Q, Puppala HL, Colvin VL, Alvarez PJJ (2012) Negligible particle-specific antibacterial activity of silver nanoparticles. Nano Lett 12:4271–4275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yin L, Cheng Y, Espinasse B, Colman BP, Auffan M, Wiesner M, Rose J, Liu J, Bernhardt ES (2011) More than the ions: the effects of silver nanoparticles on Lolium multiflorum. Environ Sci Technol 45:2360–2367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zhao CM, Wang WX (2012) Importance of surface coatings and soluble silver in silver nanoparticles toxicity to Daphnia magna. Nanotoxicology 6:361–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Loredana S. Dorobantu
    • 1
  • Clara Fallone
    • 1
  • Adam J. Noble
    • 2
  • Jonathan Veinot
    • 4
  • Guibin Ma
    • 4
  • Greg G. Goss
    • 5
  • Robert E. Burrell
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Chemical and Materials EngineeringUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  4. 4.Department of ChemistryUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations