Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles Cause Inhibition of Microbial Denitrification by Affecting Transcriptional Regulation and Enzyme Activity

Over the past few decades, human activities have accelerated the rates and extents of water eutrophication and global warming through increasing delivery of biologically available nitrogen such as nitrate and large emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. In particular, nitrous oxide (N2O) is one of the most important greenhouse gases, because it has a 300-fold higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Microbial denitrification is a major pathway responsible for nitrate removal, and also a dominant source of N2O emissions from terrestrial or aquatic environments. However, whether the release of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) into the environment affects microbial denitrification is largely unknown. Here we show that the presence of ZnO NPs lead to great increases in nitrate delivery (9.8-fold higher) and N2O emissions (350- and 174-fold higher in the gas and liquid phases, respectively). Our data further reveal that ZnO NPs significantly change the transcriptional regulations of glycolysis and polyhydroxybutyrate synthesis, which causes the decrease in reducing powers available for the reduction of nitrate and N2O. Moreover, ZnO NPs substantially inhibit the gene expressions and catalytic activities of key denitrifying enzymes. These negative effects of ZnO NPs on microbial denitrification finally cause lower nitrate removal and higher N2O emissions, which is likely to exacerbate water eutrophication and global warming.