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PLoS One. 2016 Jan 29;11(1):e0148014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148014. eCollection 2016.

Sublethal Toxicity Endpoints of Heavy Metals to the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

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College of Resources and Environment, Henan Agricultural University, Zhengzhou, 450000, P.R. China.
College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, 210095, P.R. China.
School of Management Science and Engineering, Guangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanning, 530003, P.R. China.
Soil and Fertilizer Bureau of Shandong Province, Jinan, 250100, P.R. China.


Caenorhabditis elegans, a free-living nematode, is commonly used as a model organism in ecotoxicological studies. The current literatures have provided useful insight into the relative sensitivity of several endpoints, but few direct comparisons of multiple endpoints under a common set of experimental conditions. The objective of this study was to determine appropriate sublethal endpoints to develop an ecotoxicity screening and monitoring system. C. elegans was applied to explore the sublethal toxicity of four heavy metals (copper, zinc, cadmium and chromium). Two physiological endpoints (growth and reproduction), three behavioral endpoints (head thrash frequency, body bend frequency and feeding) and two enzymatic endpoints (acetylcholine esterase [AChE] and superoxide dismutase [SOD]) were selected for the assessment of heavy metal toxicity. The squared correlation coefficients (R2) between the responses observed and fitted by Logit function were higher than 0.90 and the RMSE were lower than 0.10, indicating a good significance statistically. There was no significant difference among the half effect concentration (EC50) endpoints in physiological and behavioral effects of the four heavy metals, indicating similar sensitivity of physiological and behavioral effects. AChE enzyme was more sensitive to copper, zinc, and cadmium than to other physiological and behavioral effects, and SOD enzyme was most sensitive to chromium. The EC50 of copper, zinc, and cadmium, to the AChE enzyme in the nematodes were 0.68 mg/L, 2.76 mg/L, and 0.92 mg/L respectively and the EC50 of chromium to the SOD enzyme in the nematode was 1.58 mg/L. The results of this study showed that there was a good concentration-response relationship between all four heavy metals and the sublethal toxicity effects to C. elegans. Considering these sublethal endpoints in terms of simplicity, accuracy, repeatability and costs of the experiments, feeding is the relatively ideal sublethal toxicity endpoint of heavy metals to C. elegans.

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