The Magdalena River, the main river of Colombia, receives contaminated effluents from different anthropogenic activities along its path. However, the Magdalena River is used as drinking water source for approximately 30 million inhabitants, as well as a major source of fish for human consumption. Only a few studies have been conducted to evaluate the environmental and toxicological quality of the Magdalena River. To evaluate sediment toxicity, wild-type and GFP transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans were exposed to methanolic extracts, and effects on lethality, locomotion, growth, and gene expression were determined based on fluorescence spectroscopy. These biological and biochemical parameters were correlated with measured pollutant concentrations (PAHs and trace elements), identifying patterns of toxicity along the course of the river. Effects on lethality, growth, and locomotion were observed in areas influenced by industrial, gold mining, and petrochemical activities. Changes in gene expression were evident for cyp-34A9, especially in the sampling site located near an oil refinery, and at the seaport, in Barranquilla City. Body bend movements were moderately correlated with Cr and As concentrations. The expression of mtl-1, mtl-2, hsp-6, and hsp-70 were significantly associated with Pb/U, Pb, Sr, and As/Sr/Pb/U, respectively. Interestingly, toxicity of methanolic as well as aqueous extracts were more prone to be dependent on Cd, Zn, and Th. In general, ecological risk assessment showed sediments display low environmental impact in terms of evaluated metals and PAHs. Different types of waste disposal on the Magdalena River, as a result of mining, domestic, agricultural, and industrial activities, incorporate toxic pollutants in sediments, which are capable of generating a toxic response in C. elegans.
Keywords: GFP reporter gene; Metals; Nematodes; PAHs.