Measurements of the genotoxic potential of (xeno-)oestrogens in the bivalve mollusc Scrobicularia plana, using the Comet assay

Aquat Toxicol. 2009 Aug 13;94(1):8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2009.05.010. Epub 2009 May 27.


There is increasing concern about the fate and effects of (geno)toxic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in sediments, highlighting the need to develop suitable monitoring tools. The deposit-feeding bivalve mollusc Scrobicularia plana has been put forward as a promising bioindicator of sediment contamination in estuaries. The recent demonstration of intersex in S. plana populations has been attributed to the feminisation of male clams following exposure to (xeno-)oestrogens, yet the mode of action of these endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) remains largely unclear. One hypothesis that warrants further investigation is the possible involvement of genotoxicity. The first objective of this study was to assess whether the blood cells of S. plana are suitable for genotoxicity screening, using the alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet) assay. This was demonstrated successfully by exposing blood cells under in vitro conditions to a range of concentrations of the reference genotoxin hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)): strong correlations between H(2)O(2) concentration and various comet parameters were found. Subsequently, the Comet assay was used to test whether the natural oestrogen 17beta-oestradiol (E2) and the synthetic (xeno)oestrogens ethinyloestradiol (EE2) and nonylphenol (NP) can produce genotoxic effects in S. plana, which might indicate possible involvement of mutagenicity in the mode of action of intersex development. In these short-term tests, clear genotoxic effects (significantly more DNA in the comet tail) were demonstrated by all EDCs, albeit only at high doses: 100 ng/L E2, 1 microg/L EE2 and 100 microg/L NP in vitro; and 1 microg/L E2 and 1mg/L NP after a 6-day in vivo exposure. Nevertheless, this study provides valuable preliminary data on the application and sensitivity of S. plana blood cells and suggests that the Comet assay is a useful tool, to screen for genotoxicity in in faunal clams and to examine further the links with higher order effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bivalvia / drug effects*
  • Bivalvia / genetics*
  • Comet Assay*
  • Estradiol / toxicity
  • Estrogens / toxicity*
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / toxicity
  • Hemocytes / drug effects
  • Male
  • Phenols / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Estrogens
  • Phenols
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Ethinyl Estradiol
  • Estradiol
  • nonylphenol