Despite a wealth of studies examining the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials, current knowledge on their cytotoxic mechanisms (particularly from a physical perspective) remains limited. In this work, we imaged and quantitatively characterized the biomechanical (hardness and elasticity), adhesive, and surface electrical properties of Escherichia coli cells with and without exposure to hematite nanoparticles (NPs) in an effort to advance our understanding of the cytotoxic impacts of nanomaterials. Both scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) showed that E. coli cells had noticeable deformation with hematite treatment for 45 min with a statistical significance. The hematite-treated cells became significantly harder or stiffer than untreated ones, as evidenced by indentation and spring constant measurements. The average indentation of the hematite-treated E. coli cells was 120 nm, which is significantly lower (P<0.01) than that of the untreated cells (approximately 400 nm). The spring constant of hematite-treated E. coli cells (0.28±0.11 nN/nm) was about 20 times higher than that of untreated ones (0.010.01 nN/nm). The zeta potential of E. coli cells, measured by dynamic light scattering (DLS), was shown to shift from-4±2mV to-27±8 mV with progressive surface adsorption of hematite NPs, a finding which is consistent with the local surface potential measured by Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM). Overall, the reported findings quantitatively revealed the adverse impacts of nanomaterial exposure on physical properties of bacterial cells and should provide insight into the toxicity mechanisms of nanomaterials.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology