Improvement of heavy metal stress and toxicity assays by coupling a transgenic reporter in a mutant nematode strain

Aquat Toxicol. 2005 Sep 30;74(4):320-32. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2005.06.006.


Previous studies have demonstrated that wild type Caenorhabditis elegans displays high sensitivity to heavy metals in a lethality test at a level comparable to that of other bioindicator organisms. Taking advantage of the genetics of this model organism, we have tested a number of mutant strains for enhanced sensitivity in heavy metal induced lethality and stress response. These mutants are defective in genes controlling dauer formation, longevity or response to reactive oxygen species (ROS). Among the tested mutants, a double mutant daf-16 unc-75 strain was identified to have superior sensitivity. It has a 6-, 3- and 2-fold increase in sensitivity to cadmium, copper and zinc, respectively, as compared with that of wild type animals. When a fluorescent reporter transgene was coupled with this double mutant for stress detection, a 10-fold enhancement of sensitivity to cadmium over the wild type strain was observed. These transgenic animals, superior to most of the model organisms currently used in bioassays for environmental pollutants, offer a fast and economic approach to reveal the bioavailability of toxic substance in field samples. This study also demonstrates that combination of genetic mutations and transgenesis is a viable approach to identify sensitive indicator animals for environmental monitoring.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • Hong Kong
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Transgenes / genetics


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals, Heavy