Determining Toxic Potencies of Water-Soluble Contaminants in Wastewater Influents and Effluent Using Gene Expression Profiling in C. elegans as a Bioanalytical Tool

Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2022 Oct;83(3):284-294. doi: 10.1007/s00244-022-00959-y. Epub 2022 Oct 3.


With chemical analysis, it is impossible to qualify and quantify the toxic potency of especially hydrophilic bioactive contaminants. In this study, we applied the nematode C. elegans as a model organism for detecting the toxic potency of whole influent wastewater samples. Gene expression in the nematode was used as bioanalytical tool to reveal the presence, type and potency of molecular pathways induced by 24-h exposure to wastewater from a hospital (H), nursing home (N), community (C), and influent (I) and treated effluent (E) from a local wastewater treatment plant. Exposure to influent water significantly altered expression of 464 genes, while only two genes were differentially expressed in nematodes treated with effluent. This indicates a significant decrease in bioactive pollutant-load after wastewater treatment. Surface water receiving the effluent did not induce any genes in exposed nematodes. A subset of 209 genes was differentially expressed in all untreated wastewaters, including cytochromes P450 and C-type lectins related to the nematode's xenobiotic metabolism and immune response, respectively. Different subsets of genes responded to particular waste streams making them candidates to fingerprint-specific wastewater sources. This study shows that gene expression profiling in C. elegans can be used for mechanism-based identification of hydrophilic bioactive compounds and fingerprinting of specific wastewaters. More comprehensive than with chemical analysis, it can demonstrate the effective overall removal of bioactive compounds through wastewater treatment. This bioanalytical tool can also be applied in the process of identification of the bioactive compounds via a process of toxicity identification evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Cytochromes
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid
  • Waste Water* / chemistry
  • Water / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity
  • Xenobiotics


  • Cytochromes
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Xenobiotics
  • Water