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Toxicities of nano zinc oxide to five marine organisms: influences of aggregate size and ion solubility


Nano zinc oxide (nZnO) is increasingly used in sunscreen products, with high potential of being released directly into marine environments. This study primarily aimed to characterize the aggregate size and solubility of nZnO and bulk ZnO, and to assess their toxicities towards five selected marine organisms. Chemical characterization showed that nZnO formed larger aggregates in seawater than ZnO, while nZnO had a higher solubility in seawater (3.7 mg L−1) than that of ZnO (1.6 mg L−1). Acute tests were conducted using the marine diatoms Skeletonema costatum and Thalassiosia pseudonana, the crustaceans Tigriopus japonicus and Elasmopus rapax, and the medaka fish Oryzias melastigma. In general, nZnO was more toxic towards algae than ZnO, but relatively less toxic towards crustaceans and fish. The toxicity of nZnO could be mainly attributed to dissolved Zn2+ ions. Furthermore, molecular biomarkers including superoxide dismutase (SOD), metallothionein (MT) and heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) were employed to assess the sublethal toxicities of the test chemicals to O. melastigma. Although SOD and MT expressions were not significantly increased in nZnO-treated medaka compared to the controls, exposure to ZnO caused a significant up-regulation of SOD and MT. HSP70 was increased two to fourfold in all treatments indicating that there were probably other forms of stress in additional to oxidative stress such as cellular injury.

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This research is partially funded by the Area of Excellence Scheme under the University Grants Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, China (Project No. AoE/P-04/2004) and supported by the Strategic Research Theme of Sustainable Environment and the Faculty of Science of the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Stella Wong thanks HKU to partially support her PhD studentship. We are grateful to Dr. X.Y. Li, Civil Engineering Department, HKU for allowing us to use the laser diffractometry instrument. We also thank the anonymous reviewer for his/her valuable comments on this manuscript, and thank Helen Leung and Cecily Law for their technical support throughout the project.

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Correspondence to Kenneth M. Y. Leung.

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Wong, S.W.Y., Leung, P.T.Y., Djurišić, A.B. et al. Toxicities of nano zinc oxide to five marine organisms: influences of aggregate size and ion solubility. Anal Bioanal Chem 396, 609–618 (2010).

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  • Zinc oxide
  • Algae
  • Crustacean
  • Medaka
  • Biomarker