, Volume 366, Issue 6-7, pp 769-779

Reporter gene bioassays in environmental analysis

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In parallel to the continuous development of increasingly more sophisticated physical and chemical analytical technologies for the detection of environmental pollutants, there is a progressively more urgent need also for bioassays which report not only on the presence of a chemical but also on its bioavailability and its biological effects. As a partial fulfillment of that need, there has been a rapid development of biosensors based on genetically engineered bacteria. Such microorganisms typically combine a promoter-operator, which acts as the sensing element, with reporter gene(s) coding for easily detectable proteins. These sensors have the ability to detect global parameters such as stress conditions, toxicity or DNA-damaging agents as well as specific organic and inorganic compounds. The systems described in this review, designed to detect different groups of target chemicals, vary greatly in their detection limits, specificity, response times and more. These variations reflect on their potential applicability which, for most of the constructs described, is presently rather limited. Nevertheless, present trends promise that additional improvements will make microbial biosensors an important tool for future environmental analysis.