Bacterial bioassay for rapid and accurate analysis of arsenic in highly variable groundwater samples

Environ Sci Technol. 2005 Oct 1;39(19):7625-30. doi: 10.1021/es050992e.


In this study, we report the first ever large-scale environmental validation of a microbial reporter-based test to measure arsenic concentrations in natural water resources. A bioluminescence-producing arsenic-inducible bacterium based on Escherichia coli was used as the reporter organism. Specific protocols were developed with the goal to avoid the negative influence of iron in groundwater on arsenic availability to the bioreporter cells. A total of 194 groundwater samples were collected in the Red River and Mekong River Delta regions of Vietnam and were analyzed both by atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and by the arsenic bioreporter protocol. The bacterial cells performed well at and above arsenic concentrations in groundwater of 7 microg/L, with an almost linearly proportional increase of the bioluminescence signal between 10 and 100 microg As/L (r2 = 0.997). Comparisons between AAS and arsenic bioreporter determinations gave an overall average of 8.0% false negative and 2.4% false positive identifications for the bioreporter prediction at the WHO recommended acceptable arsenic concentration of 10 microg/L, which is far betterthan the performance of chemical field test kits. Because of the ease of the measurement protocol and the low application cost, the microbiological arsenic test has a great potential in large screening campaigns in Asia and in other areas suffering from arsenic pollution in groundwater resources.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Fresh Water / chemistry*
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Vietnam
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Luciferases
  • Arsenic