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Antimicrobial activities of commercial nanoparticles against an environmental soil microbe, Pseudomonas putida KT2440

Priyanka Gajjar1, Brian Pettee2, David W Britt1, Wenjie Huang3, William P Johnson4* and Anne J Anderson2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Engineering, Utah State University, Logan Utah 84321, USA

2 Department of Biology, Utah State University, Logan Utah 84321, USA

3 Chemical Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

4 Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City Utah 84112, USA

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Journal of Biological Engineering 2009, 3:9  doi:10.1186/1754-1611-3-9

Published: 26 June 2009



The release of heavy metal-containing nanoparticles (NP) into the environment may be harmful to the efficacy of beneficial microbes that function in element cycling, pollutant degradation and plant growth. Nanoparticles of Ag, CuO and ZnO are of interest as antimicrobials against pathogenic bacteria. We demonstrate here their antimicrobial activity against the beneficial soil microbe, Pseudomonas putida KT2440.


Toxicity was detected in a KT2440 construct possessing a plasmid bearing the luxAB reporter genes. "As manufactured" preparations of nano- Ag, -CuO and -ZnO caused rapid dose-dependent loss of light output in the biosensor. Cell death accompanied loss in Lux activity with treatments by nano-Ag and -CuO, but with -ZnO the treatments were bacteriostatic rather than bactericidal. Bulk equivalents of these products showed no inhibitory activity, indicating that particle size was determinant in activity. Flow Field-Flow Fractionation (FlFFF) of an aqueous suspension of the nano-CuO and ZnO revealed a small proportion of 5 nm NP and aggregated particulates with sizes ranging between 70 nm and 300 nm; the majority portion of material was aggregated into particles larger than 300 nm in size. Thus within the commercial preparation there may be microbially active and inactive forms.


The "as-made" NP of Ag, CuO and ZnO have toxic effects on a beneficial soil microbe, leading to bactericidal or bacteriostatic effects depending on the NP employed. The lack of toxicity from bulk materials suggests that aggregation of the NP into larger particles, possibly by factors present in the environment may reduce their nontarget antimicrobial activity.