, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 27-31

Invertebrate organisms as biological indicators of heavy metal pollution

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Abstract

Some species of invertebrate animals are known to be efficient accumulators of trace elements. Generally, metal accumulation by such organisms is based on efficient detoxification mechanisms, such as intracellular compartmentalization, or metal inactivation by binding to metallothioneins. Metal accumulators have often been used as accumulation indicators of environmental metal pollution. This means that, ideally, metal concentrations in the animal’s body reflect quantitatively or semiquantitatively environmental pollution levels. In reality, however, many factors, such as the animal’s weight and age, can disturb such quantitative relationships. These factors have, therefore, to be considered carefully before an invertebrate is utilized as accumulation indicator for metal pollution.

Apart from accumulation, many invertebrates exposed to elevated metal concentrations respond to this stress by metal-induced synthesis of metallothioneins. Additionally, metallothionein in metal-loaded organisms can be present in different isoforms that are specifically synthesized in response to different metals. These facts make metallothionein a potential biomarker for metal stress in invertebrates. One possibility may be to assess parameters of metallothionein synthesis at the molecular or biochemical level. Moreover, metallothionein isoform patterns could provide information on different isoforms synthesized in response to different metals or chemicals. In any case, however, care must be taken to consider intrinsic physiological parameters, such as nutritional or developmental factors, which could also interfere with metallothionein synthesis.