A Multidisciplinary Approach for Assessing the Toxicity of Marine Sediments: Analysis of Metal Content and Elutriate Bioassays Using Metal Bioavailability and Genotoxicity Biomarkers

  • Stefania Frassinetti
  • Emanuela Pitzalis
  • Marco Carlo Mascherpa
  • Leonardo Caltavuturo
  • Elisabetta Morelli


The goal of this article is to verify the applicability of two different biological assays for studying a coastal area that is subject to anthropogenic inputs. Phytochelatins in the marine diatom Thalassiosira weissflogii were used as a biomarker of metal bioavailability. The frequency of genetic damage in the sensitive D7 strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae was used to estimate the mutagenic potential. Biological assays were carried out using sediment elutriates. Sediments were collected at three selected sites located in the Gulf of Follonica (Tuscany, Italy), during a 2-year sampling period: Cala Violina (reference site) and the mouths of the rivers Pecora and Cornia, named sites V, P and C, respectively. The chemical characterization of each site was determined in terms of metal concentrations (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb), measured in 11 sediment samples for each site. The results showed that metal concentrations in sediments from sites C and P were 2–10 times higher than the reference values (site V, year 2004). In addition, we found generally higher metal concentrations in the 2007 sediments than in the 2008 ones, including those of site V, due to the occurrence of an unexpected pollution event. This enabled us to obtain a pollution gradient to validate the proposed bioassays. In fact, the bioassays showed a potential biological hazard in the 2007 elutriates. Significant mutagenic effects were found in samples exhibiting higher concentrations of Cd and Cr. The induction of phytochelatins in T. weissflogii correlated positively with the Cd concentration in the elutriates.



The authors would like to thank Dr. Roberto Bedini (Institute of Biology and Marine Ecology, Piombino–LI) for providing the sediment samples and Alessandro Puntoni (Institute of Biophysics, CNR–PI) for technical assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefania Frassinetti
    • 1
  • Emanuela Pitzalis
    • 2
  • Marco Carlo Mascherpa
    • 2
  • Leonardo Caltavuturo
    • 1
  • Elisabetta Morelli
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Agricultural Biology and BiotechnologyCNRPisaItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Chemistry of Organometallic CompoundsCNRPisaItaly
  3. 3.Institute of BiophysicsCNRPisaItaly

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