Phytotoxicity is an important consideration to understand the potential environmental impacts of manufactured nanomaterials. Here, we report on the effects of four metal oxide nanoparticles, aluminum oxide (nAl(2)O(3)), silicon dioxide (nSiO(2)), magnetite (nFe(3)O(4)), and zinc oxide (nZnO), on the development of Arabidopsis thaliana (Mouse-ear cress). Three toxicity indicators (seed germination, root elongation, and number of leaves) were quantified following exposure to each nanoparticle at three concentrations: 400, 2,000, and 4,000 mg/L. Among these particles, nZnO was most phytotoxic, followed by nFe(3)O(4), nSiO(2), and nAl(2)O(3), which was not toxic. Consequently, nZnO was further studied to discern the importance of particle size and zinc dissolution as toxicity determinants. Soluble zinc concentrations in nanoparticle suspensions were 33-fold lower than the minimum inhibitory concentration of dissolved zinc salt (ZnCl(2)), indicating that zinc dissolution could not solely account for the observed toxicity. Inhibition of seed germination by ZnO depended on particle size, with nanoparticles exerting higher toxicity than larger (micron-sized) particles at equivalent concentrations. Overall, this study shows that direct exposure to nanoparticles significantly contributed to phytotoxicity and underscores the need for eco-responsible disposal of wastes and sludge containing metal oxide nanoparticles.
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