Online monitoring of heavy metal–related toxicity using flow-through and floating microbial fuel cell biosensors


Elevated concentrations of heavy metals in water caused by mining activities create significant risks to the environment. Traditional biological methods used to assess heavy metal–related toxicity in aquatic environments are lengthy and labor intensive. Real-time biomonitoring approaches eliminate some of these limitations and provide a more accurate indication of toxicity. This study describes the performance of a flow-through and floating design microbial fuel cell (MFC) biosensors for real-time detection of copper (Cu) and other heavy metal–related toxicity in aquatic environments. Several biomonitoring tests were carried out using Cu and mining effluents as toxicants. The biosensors were able to detect, in real-time, Cu-related toxicity at concentrations as low as 35 - 40 μg L−1, as confirmed by a Daphnia assay. A comparison of the floating biosensor’s outputs with Daphnia magna survival rates showed a linear correlation with a coefficient of determination (R2) higher than 0.9. In addition, the flow-through biosensor was shown to be able to detect  differences in the quality of two mining effluents with different compositions of heavy metals. Finally, the biosensor's real-time field performance was investigated in two aquatic environments in the Sudbury, Ontario region of Canada.

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Correspondence to Ademola Adekunle.

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Adekunle, A., Rickwood, C. & Tartakovsky, B. Online monitoring of heavy metal–related toxicity using flow-through and floating microbial fuel cell biosensors. Environ Monit Assess 192, 52 (2020) doi:10.1007/s10661-019-7850-0

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  • Biomonitoring
  • Copper
  • Daphnia assay
  • Biosensing
  • Real time
  • Aquatic toxicity