Nanoparticles (NPs) are becoming prevalent in consumer goods, including foods and cosmetics. Understanding the interactions between NPs and bacteria in an engineered model colon can indicate potential impacts of NP exposure on the gut, and therefore overall human health. Human microbiome health has important implications to overall individual health. This work aims at quantifying the phenotypic response to NP ingestion of a model microbial community within a model colon. Three NPs at environmentally relevant concentrations (0.01 μg/L ZnO, 0.01 μg/L CeO2, and 3 mg/L TiO2) were individually introduced into a model colon to identify the subsequent impact on the gut microbial community. Results indicate that NPs cause the microbial community's phenotype to partition into three distinct phases: initial conditions, a transition period, and a homeostatic phase, with the NP-exposed community displaying significant differences (p<0.05) from the unexposed community in multiple phenotypic traits. Notably, phenotypes, including short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production, hydrophobicity, sugar content of the extracellular polymeric substance, and electrophoretic mobility, which indicate changes in the community's stability, were affected by the NPs. TiO2 NPs led to extended phenotypic transformations for hydrophobicity when compared with the other NPs, likely due to its lack of dissociation and greater stability. Overall, the NPs caused nonlethal, significant changes to the microbial community's phenotype, which may be related to overall health effects.
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