A bacterial bioreporter panel to assay the cytotoxicity of atmospheric particulate matter

Nivi Kessler*, James J. Schauer, Sharon Yagur-Kroll, Sahar Melamed, Ofir Tirosh, Shimshon Belkin, Yigal Erel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Numerous studies have demonstrated that elevated concentrations of suspended atmospheric particulate matter (PM) are associated with adverse health effects. In order to minimize the adverse public health effects of atmospheric PM by exposure management, there is a need for a greater understanding of the toxic mechanisms and the components that are responsible for the toxic effects. The aim of this study was to utilize bioassay techniques to investigate these aspects. For this purpose a reporter panel of 9 genetically engineered bacterial (Escherichia coli) strains was composed. Each panel member was designed to report on a different stress condition with a measurable light signal produced by the luciferase enzyme. Toxic mechanisms and components were studied using six anthropogenic PM source samples, including two vehicle combustion particles, three coal fly ash (CFA) samples and an urban dust sample. The most prominent outcome of the panel exposure results were broad panel responses observed for two of the CFA samples, indicating oxidative stress, respiration inhibition and iron deficiency. These responses were relieved when the samples were treated with EDTA, a non-specific metal chelator, suggesting the involvement of metals in the observed effects. Bioavailability analysis of the samples suggests that chromium was related to the toxic responses induced by two of the CFA samples. Oxidative stress was also observed in several samples of ambient atmospheric aerosols and excess metal toxicity in an urban dust sample collected in a parking lot. The reporter panel approach, as demonstrated in this study, has the potential of providing novel insights as to the mechanisms of atmospheric PM toxicity. Furthermore, combining the panel's results with bioavailability data can enlighten about the role of different PM components in the observed toxicity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)94-101
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank all colleagues and students who contributed to this study. We are grateful to Prof. Uri Dayan for his collaboration, and to our research assistant, Orly Levinson, who greatly assisted in the experimental work. We express our gratitude to the Environment and Health Fund for supporting this project (grant RGA 0802 ).


  • Air pollution
  • Biosensors
  • Metals
  • Oxidative stress
  • Particles
  • Toxicity


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