Pollutant toxicity and detoxification by humic substances: mechanisms and quantitative assessment via luminescent biomonitoring

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2015 Jan;22(1):155-67. doi: 10.1007/s11356-014-3459-6. Epub 2014 Aug 23.


The paper considers mechanisms of detoxification of pollutant solutions by water-soluble humic substances (HSs), natural detoxifying agents. The problems and perspectives of bioassay application for toxicity monitoring of complex solutions are discussed from ecological point of view. Bioluminescence assays based on marine bacteria and their enzymes are of special attention here; they were shown to be convenient tools to study the detoxifying effects on cellular and biochemical levels. The advantages of bioluminescent enzymatic assay for monitoring both integral and oxidative toxicities in complex solutions of model pollutants and HS were demonstrated. The efficiencies of detoxification of the solutions of organic oxidizers and salts of metals (including radioactive ones) by HS were analyzed. The dependencies of detoxification efficiency on time of exposure to HS and HS concentrations were demonstrated. Antioxidant properties of HS were considered in detail. The detoxifying effects of HS were shown to be complex and regarded as 'external' (binding and redox processes in solutions outside the organisms) and/or 'internal' organismal processes. The paper demonstrates that the HS can stimulate a protective response of bacterial cells as a result of (1) changes of rates of biochemical reactions and (2) stabilization of mucous layers outside the cell walls. Acceleration of auto-oxidation of NADH, endogenous reducer, by HS was suggested as a reason for toxicity increase in the presence of HS due to abatement of reduction ability of intracellular media.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Assay
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humic Substances*
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Soil Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Soil Pollutants / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Humic Substances
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical