Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Hristova, Krassimira R.

Second Advisor

Noel, Dale

Third Advisor

Maki, James


Copper oxide nanoparticles (CuO NPs) are an up and coming technology increasingly being used in industrial and consumer applications and thus may pose risk to humans and the environment. In the present study, the toxic effects of CuO NPs were studied with two model organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Caenorhabditis elegans. The role of released Cu ions during dissolution of CuO NPs in growth media were studied with freshly suspended, aged NPs, and the released Cu2+ fraction. Exposures to the different Cu treatments showed significant inhibition of S. cerevisiae cellular metabolic activity. Inhibition from the NPs was inversely proportional to size and was not fully explained by the released Cu ions. S. cerevisiae cultures grown under respiring conditions demonstrated greater metabolic sensitivity when exposed to CuO NPs compared to cultures undergoing fermentation. The cellular response to both CuO NPs and released Cu ions on gene expression was analyzed via microarray analysis after an acute exposure. It was observed that both copper exposures resulted in an increase in carbohydrate storage, a decrease in protein production, protein misfolding, increased membrane permeability, and cell cycle arrest. Cells exposed to NPs up-regulated genes related to oxidative phosphorylation but also may be inducing cell cycle arrest by a different mechanism than that observed with released Cu ions. The effect of CuO NPs on C. elegans was examined by using several toxicological endpoints. The CuO NPs displayed a more inhibitory effect, compared to copper sulfate, on nematode reproduction, feeding, and development. We investigated the effects of copper oxide nanoparticles and copper sulfate on neuronal health, a known tissue vulnerable to heavy metal toxicity. In transgenic C. elegans with neurons expressing a green fluorescent protein reporter, neuronal degeneration was observed in up to 10% of the population after copper oxide nanoparticle exposure. Additionally, nematode mutant strains containing gene knockouts in the divalent-metal transporters smf-1 and smf-2 showed increased tolerance to copper exposure. These results lend credence to the hypothesis that some toxicological effects to eukaryotic organisms from copper oxide nanoparticle exposure may be due to properties specific to the nanoparticles and not solely from the released copper ions.