To develop applicable and susceptible models to evaluate the toxicity of nanoparticles, the antimicrobial effects of CuO nanoparticles (CuO-NPs) on various Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae) strains (wild type, single-gene-deleted mutants, and multiple-gene-deleted mutants) were determined and compared. Further experiments were also conducted to analyze the mechanisms associated with toxicity using copper salt, bulk CuO (bCuO), carbon-shelled copper nanoparticles (C/Cu-NPs), and carbon nanoparticles (C-NPs) for comparisons. The results indicated that the growth inhibition rates of CuO-NPs for the wild-type and the single-gene-deleted strains were comparable, while for the multiple-gene deletion mutant, significantly higher toxicity was observed (P < 0.05). When the toxicity of the CuO-NPs to yeast cells was compared with the toxicities of copper salt and bCuO, we concluded that the toxicity of CuO-NPs should be attributed to soluble copper rather than to the nanoparticles. The striking difference in adverse effects of C-NPs and C/Cu-NPs with equivalent surface areas also proved this. A toxicity assay revealed that the multiple-gene-deleted mutant was significantly more sensitive to CuO-NPs than the wild type. Specifically, compared with the wild-type strain, copper was readily taken up by mutant strains when cell permeability genes were knocked out, and the mutants with deletions of genes regulated under oxidative stress (OS) were likely producing more reactive oxygen species (ROS). Hence, as mechanism-based gene inactivation could increase the susceptibility of yeast, the multiple-gene-deleted mutants should be improved model organisms to investigate the toxicity of nanoparticles.