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Detection of genotoxic effects of drinking water disinfection by-products using Vicia faba bioassay


Plant-based bioassays have gained wide use among the toxicological and/or ecotoxicological assessment procedures because of their simplicity, sensitivity, low cost, and reliability. The present study describes the use of Vicia faba (V. faba) micronucleus (MN) test and V. faba comet assay in the evaluation of the genotoxic potential of disinfection by-products (DBPs) commonly found in chlorine-disinfected drinking water. Five haloacetic acids and three halogenated acetonitriles were chosen as representatives of DBPs in this study because they are of potentially great public health risk. Results of the MN test indicated that monochloroacetic acid (MCA), monobromoacetic acid (MBA), dichloroacetic acid (DCA), dibromoacetic acid (DBA), trichloroacetic acid (TCA), and trichloroacetonitrile (TCAN) caused a statistically significant increase in MN frequency in V. faba root tip cells. However, no genotoxic response was observed for dichloroacetonitrile (DCAN) and dibromoacetonitrile (DBAN). Results of the comet assay showed that all tested DBPs induced a statistically significant increase in genomic DNA damage to V. faba root tip cells. On considering the capacity to detect genomic damage of a different nature, we suggest that a combination of V. faba MN test and V. faba comet assay is a useful tool for the detection of genotoxic effects of DBPs. It is worthy of assessing the feasibility of using V. faba comet assay combined with V. faba MN test to screen for the genotoxic activity of chlorinated drinking water in future work.

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We would like to thank the National Key Technologies R&D Program of China, the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China, and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, HUST, for the partial support of this study.

Author information

Correspondence to Ai-Lin Liu.

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This study was funded by the National Key Technologies R&D Program of China (Grant No. 2006BAI19B02), the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China (863 Program, Grant No. 2013AA065204), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (HUST: No. 2015TS103).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Yu Hu and Li Tan contributed equally to this work

Responsible editor: Markus Hecker

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Hu, Y., Tan, L., Zhang, S. et al. Detection of genotoxic effects of drinking water disinfection by-products using Vicia faba bioassay. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 1509–1517 (2017).

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  • Comet assay
  • Genotoxicity
  • Haloacetic acids (HAAs)
  • Halogenated acetonitriles (HANs)
  • Micronucleus test
  • Plant-based biotest