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Chemosphere. 2002 Jan;46(2):225-33.

The cytotoxic and genotoxic potential of surface water and wastewater effluents as determined by bioluminescence, umu-assays and selected biomarkers.

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  • 1Department of Ecotoxicology, Institute for Ecological Research and Technology, Technical University of Berlin, Germany. halim.dizer@tu-berlin.de


Two bacterial tests employing Photobacterieum phosphoreum (Microtox bioluminescence test) and Salmonella typhimurium TA 1535 pSK1002 (umu-assay) were evaluated to estimate the cytotoxic and genotoxic potential of water samples from the selected rivers in Germany as well as the primary and secondary effluents of some sewage treatment plants. Rainbow trout (Onchorynchus mykiss) were exposed to different concentrations (20-40%) of secondary effluent in the model online aquatic monitoring plant WaBoLu-Aquatox. The toxic potential of water samples from the exposure tanks was determined in two prokaryotic test systems and the biomarkers acethylcholinesterase (AChE) activity in muscle tissue and DNA unwinding assay in liver tissue of fish. Samples from the tested rivers showed no inhibition of the bioluminescence of P. phosphoreum or growth of umu-bacteria. Only primary effluent samples from the treatment plants at the Saale River inhibited the light emission or the growth of test bacteria by more than 20%. The induction ratio of umu-bacteria was in most of the river samples less than the threshold for genotoxicity (IR < 1.5). Only some samples from the Saale River, especially at sites downstream of secondary effluents caused genotoxic responses in the umu-assay. Samples of primary effluents contained the greatest genotoxic potential up to GEUI = 6 which was not detectable in samples of secondary effluents. A concentration range 20-40% secondary effluent inhibited AChE activity in muscle tissue and significantly increased DNA fragmentation in liver tissue of rainbow trout. In contrast, no cytotoxic or genotoxic responses in the umu-assay were caused by water samples. Both bacterial methods can be successfully used to analyse the cytotoxic and genotoxic response of industrial and domestic wastewater and to estimate the effectiveness of sewage treatment units. However, because of their low sensitivity and high susceptibility, they are not reliable as a single test for the detection of cytotoxicity and genotoxicity in surface water. The application of prokaryotic tests systems with biomarkers such as AChE activity and DNA fragmentation in different tissues of test organisms seems to be a useful combination for the assessment of cytotoxic and genotoxic potential in surface water and secondary effluent.

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