Differential toxicity of carbon nanomaterials in Drosophila: larval dietary uptake is benign, but adult exposure causes locomotor impairment and mortality

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Aug 15;43(16):6357-63. doi: 10.1021/es901079z.


Rapid growth in nanomaterial manufacturing is raising concerns about potential adverse effects on the environment. Nanoparticle contact with intact organisms in the wild may lead to different biological responses than those observed in laboratory cell-based toxicity assays. In nature, the scale and chemistry of nanoparticles coupled with the surface properties, texture, and behaviors of the organisms will influence biologically significant exposure and ultimate toxicity. We used larval and adult Drosophila melanogaster to study the effects of carbon nanomaterial exposure under several different scenarios. Dietary uptake of fullerene C60, carbon black (CB), or single-walled or multiwalled nanotubes (SWNTs, MWNTs) delivered through the food to the larval stage had no detectable effect on egg to adult survivorship, despite evidence that the nanomaterials are taken up and become sequestered in tissue. However, when these same nanocarbons were exposed in dry form to adults, some materials (CB, SWNTs) adhered extensively to fly surfaces, overwhelmed natural grooming mechanisms, and led to impaired locomotor function and mortality. Others (C60, MWNT arrays) adhered weakly, could be removed by grooming, and did not reduce locomotor function or survivorship. Evidence is presented that these differences are primarily due to differences in nanomaterial superstructure, or aggregation state, and that the combination of adhesion and grooming can lead to active fly borne nanoparticle transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adhesiveness / drug effects
  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Carbon / administration & dosage
  • Carbon / toxicity*
  • Diet*
  • Drosophila / drug effects*
  • Drosophila / ultrastructure
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Larva / ultrastructure
  • Locomotion / drug effects*
  • Nanostructures / administration & dosage
  • Nanostructures / toxicity*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure
  • Survival Analysis
  • Toxicity Tests*


  • Carbon