We report on the toxicity of ZnO nanoparticles (NPs) to gram-negative and gram-positive bacterial systems, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), and primary human immune cells. ZnO NP (13nm) showed complete inhibition of E. coli growth at concentrations 3.4mM, whereas growth of S. aureus was completely inhibited for 1mM. Parallel experiments using flow cytometry based assays clearly demonstrated that growth inhibitory properties of ZnO NP were accompanied by a corresponding loss of cell viability. Identical ZnO NP had minimal effects on primary human T cell viability at concentrations toxic to both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. Collectively, these experiments demonstrate selectivity in the toxic nature of ZnO NP to different bacterial systems and human T lymphocytes. Developing selective toxicity to biological systems and controlling it by NP design could lead to biomedical and antibacterial applications.

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