Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 27–31 | Cite as

Invertebrate organisms as biological indicators of heavy metal pollution

  • Reinhard Dallinger


Some species of invertebrate animals are known to be efficient accumulators of trace elements. Generally, metal accumulation by such organisms is based on efficient detoxification mechanisms, such as intracellular compartmentalization, or metal inactivation by binding to metallothioneins. Metal accumulators have often been used as accumulation indicators of environmental metal pollution. This means that, ideally, metal concentrations in the animal’s body reflect quantitatively or semiquantitatively environmental pollution levels. In reality, however, many factors, such as the animal’s weight and age, can disturb such quantitative relationships. These factors have, therefore, to be considered carefully before an invertebrate is utilized as accumulation indicator for metal pollution.

Apart from accumulation, many invertebrates exposed to elevated metal concentrations respond to this stress by metal-induced synthesis of metallothioneins. Additionally, metallothionein in metal-loaded organisms can be present in different isoforms that are specifically synthesized in response to different metals. These facts make metallothionein a potential biomarker for metal stress in invertebrates. One possibility may be to assess parameters of metallothionein synthesis at the molecular or biochemical level. Moreover, metallothionein isoform patterns could provide information on different isoforms synthesized in response to different metals or chemicals. In any case, however, care must be taken to consider intrinsic physiological parameters, such as nutritional or developmental factors, which could also interfere with metallothionein synthesis.

Index Entries

Invertebrates heavy metal metal accumulation biological indicator biomonitoring biomarker metallothionein 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Dallinger, R. (1993), inEcotoxicology of Metals in Invertebrates, Dallinger, R. and Rainbow, P., eds., Lewis, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 245–289.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hopkin, S. P. and Martin, M. H. (1984), inThe Biology of Terrestrial Isopods, Sutton, S. L. and Holdich, D.M., eds., Symp. Zool. Soc., London, No. 53, pp. 143–166.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Morgan, A. J., Morgan, J. E., Turner, M., Winters, C., and Yarwood, A. (1993), inEcotoxicology of Metals in Invertebrates, Dallinger, R. and Rainbow, P., eds., Lewis, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 333–358.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Janssen, M. P. M., Bruins, A., De Vries, T. H., and Van Straalen, N. M. (1991),Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 20, 305–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Martin, M. H. and Coughtrey, P. J. (1982),Biological Monitoring of Heavy Metal Pollution: Land and Air, Applied Science, London and New York.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hopkin, S. P., Hardisty, G. N., and Martin, M. H. (1986),Environ. Poll. 11 (Ser. B), 271–290.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dallinger, R. (1992), inBiological Indicators for Environmental Monitoring, Bonotto, S., Nobili, R., and Revoltella, R. P., eds., Serono Symposia Review No. 27, pp. 227–242.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Berger, B. and Dallinger, R. (1993),Environ. Monitor. Assess. 25, 65–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    KÄgi, J. H. R. and SchÄrfer, A. (1988),Biochemistry 27, 8509–8515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sanders, B. (1990), inBiomarkers of Environmental Contamination, McCarthy, J. F. and Shugart, L. R., eds., CRC, Boca Raton, FL.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Dallinger, R., Berger, B., and Gruber, A. (1993), inEcotoxicology of Metals in Invertebrates, Dallinger, R., and Rainbow, P., eds., Lewis, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 315–332.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dallinger, R., Berger, B., Hunziker, P. E., Birchler, N., Hauer, C. R., and KÄgi, J. H. R. (1993),Eur. J. Biochem. 276, 739–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Roesijadi, G. (1992),Aquat. Toxicol. 22, 81–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Engel, D.W. (1988),Wat. Res. Bull. 24(5), 981–987.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Summer, K. H. and Klein, D. (1991),Methods Enzymol. 205 (part B), 57–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reinhard Dallinger
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Zoologie (Abteilung für ökophysiologie)UniversitÄt InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria

Personalised recommendations