A sensitive, rapid ferricyanide-mediated toxicity bioassay developed using Escherichia coli

Kylie Catterall, David Robertson, Sian Hudson, Peter R. Teasdale, David T. Welsh, Richard John

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


A need for rapid toxicity techniques has seen recent research into developing new microbiological assays and characterising their toxicity responses using a range of substances. A microbiological bioassay that determines changes in ferricyanide-mediated respiration for toxicity measurement (FM-TOX) shows particular promise. The development and optimisation of an improved FM-TOX method, incorporating novel features, is described using Escherichia coli as the biocatalyst. Omission of an exogenous carbon source, used in previously described FM-TOX assays, substantially improves the assay sensitivity. In addition, the development of a two-step procedure (toxicant exposure followed by determination of microbial respiratory activity) was found to enhance the inhibition of E. coli by 3,5-dichlorophenol and four other toxicants, compared to single-step procedures. Other assay parameters, such as the ferricyanide concentration, exposure times and optical density of the biocatalyst were also optimised, sometimes based on practical aspects. Toxicity tests were carried out using the adopted technique on both organic and inorganic toxicants, with classic sigmoid-shaped dose-response curves observed, as well as some non-standard responses. IC50 data is presented for a number of common toxicants. The optimised assay provides a good foundation for further toxicity testing using E. coli, as well as the potential for expanding the technique to utilise other bacteria with complementary toxicity responses, thereby allowing use of the assay in a range of applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-757
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronoamperometry
  • Ferricyanide
  • Inhibition
  • Microbial
  • Respiration

Cite this