Near-real-time biomonitoring of heavy metals using the xenoassay® system

M.Y. Shukor, N.A. Masdor, M.I.E. Halmi, K Kamaruddin, M.A. Syed


Heavy metals have widespread industrial uses and have been found in increasing quantities as contaminants in all components of the biosphere. Water and sediment of rivers near industrial areas such as the Juru River in Penang and Langat River in Selangor are polluted with heavy metals. Thus, rapid and fast methods to detect the presence of heavy metals in the environment are necessary. Existing instrumental methods such as atomic absorption and emission spectrometry are very sensitive but the sole use of these instruments for heavy metal detection is extremely expensive, needs a skillful person to operate and is not amenable to near-real-time analysis. The best scenario for routine biomonitoring of heavy metals is the marriage between instrument- and bioassays. Currently, the USEPA has recognized whole cell-based bioassays such as as PolytoxTM and Microtox® for the detection of heavy metals. Unfortunately these cell-based assays cannot be used as real-time or near real-time assays in the field as they require bulky incubators. Near-real-time monitoring of heavy metals giving results in less than one hour is very useful in environmental CSI (Criminal Scene Investigation) or ECSI where temporal and spatial concentrations of heavy metals in running waters are a challenge to environmentalists to pinpoint heavy metals POS (point of source) for legal purposes. Enzyme-based inhibitive assays are simple, rapid and fast and could be developed for near real-time assays. We have developed an inhibitive assay system –Xenoassay® based on proteases for the assay of heavy metals. The system could detect the heavy metals mercury, cadmium, lead, copper, zinc and silver at the sub parts per million level. Field trial near-real-time assay capability shows promising results.

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