Adsorption of titanium dioxide nanoparticles onto zebrafish eggs affects colonizing microbiota

Bregje W. Brinkmann, Wouter F. Beijk, Redmar C. Vlieg, S. John T. van Noort, Jorge Mejia, Julien L. Colaux, Stéphane Lucas, Gerda Lamers, Willie J.G.M. Peijnenburg, Martina G. Vijver

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Teleost fish embryos are protected by two acellular membranes against particulate pollutants that are present in the water column. These membranes provide an effective barrier preventing particle uptake. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the adsorption of antimicrobial titanium dioxide nanoparticles onto zebrafish eggs nevertheless harms the developing embryo by disturbing early microbial colonization. Zebrafish eggs were exposed during their first day of development to 2, 5 and 10 mg TiO2 L−1 (NM-105). Additionally, eggs were exposed to gold nanorods to assess the effectiveness of the eggs’ membranes in preventing particle uptake, localizing these particles by way of two-photon microscopy. This confirmed that particles accumulate onto zebrafish eggs, without any detectable amounts of particles crossing the protective membranes. By way of particle-induced X-ray emission analysis, we inferred that the titanium dioxide particles could cover 25–45 % of the zebrafish egg surface, where the concentrations of sorbed titanium correlated positively with concentrations of potassium and correlated negatively with concentrations of silicon. A combination of imaging and culture-based microbial identification techniques revealed that the adsorbed particles exerted antimicrobial effects, but resulted in an overall increase of microbial abundance, without any change in heterotrophic microbial activity, as inferred based on carbon substrate utilization. This effect persisted upon hatching, since larvae from particle-exposed eggs still comprised higher microbial abundance than larvae that hatched from control eggs. Notably, pathogenic aeromonads tolerated the antimicrobial properties of the nanoparticles. Overall, our results show that the adsorption of suspended antimicrobial nanoparticles on aquatic eggs can have cascading effects across different life stages of oviparous animals. Our study furthermore suggests that aggregation dynamics may occur that could facilitate the dispersal of pathogenic bacteria through aquatic ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105744
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Cascading effects
  • EcoPlate
  • Host-microbiota interactions
  • Particle-induced X-ray emission
  • Two-photon multifocal microscopy


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