In many environmental scenarios, the fate and impact of polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) that contain carbon nanotubes (CNT/PNCs) will be influenced by their interactions with microorganisms, with implications for antimicrobial properties and the long-term persistence of PNCs. Using oxidized single-wall (OSWCNTs) and multi-wall CNTs (O-MWCNTs), we explored the influence that CNT loading (mass fraction <0.1%-10%) and type have on the initial interactions of Pseudomonas aeruginosa with OCNT/ poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVOH) nanocomposites containing welldispersed O-CNTs. LIVE/DEAD staining revealed that, despite oxidation, the inclusion of O-SWCNTs or O-MWCNTs caused PNC surfaces to exhibit antimicrobial properties. The fraction of living cells deposited on both O-SWCNT and O-MWCNT/PNC surfaces decreased exponentially with increasing CNT loading, with O-SWCNTs being approximately three times more cytotoxic on a % w/w basis. Although not every contact event between attached microorganisms and CNTs led to cell death, the cytotoxicity of the CNT/PNC surfaces scaled with the total contact area that existed between the microorganisms and CNTs. However, because the antimicrobial properties of CNT/PNC surfaces require direct CNT-microbe contact, dead cells were able to shield living cells from the cytotoxic effects of CNTs, allowing biofilm formation to occur on CNT/PNCs exposed to Pseudomonas aeruginosa for longer time periods.

Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, 49, 5484-5492