Development of a bioanalytical test battery for water quality monitoring: Fingerprinting identified micropollutants and their contribution to effects in surface water

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Peta A. Neale
  • Rolf Altenburger
  • Selim Aït-Aïssa
  • François Brion
  • Wibke Busch
  • Gisela De Aragão Umbuzeiro
  • Michael S. Denison
  • David Du Pasquier
  • Klára Hilscherová
  • Henner Hollert
  • Daniel A. Morales
  • Jiří Novák
  • Rita Schlichting
  • Thomas-Benjamin Seiler
  • Helene Serra
  • Ying Shao
  • Andrew J. Tindall
  • Knut Erik Tollefsen
  • Beate I. Escher

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Griffith University
  • The University of Queensland
  • Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
  • Institut National de l'Environnement Industriel et des Risques INERIS, Unité d’Ecotoxicologie
  • School of Technology, University of Campinas
  • University of California
  • WatchFrog
  • Masaryk University, Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX)
  • RWTH Aachen University
  • Norwegian Institute for Water Research NIVA
  • Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen,


Surface waters can contain a diverse range of organic pollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and industrial compounds. While bioassays have been used for water quality monitoring, there is limited knowledge regarding the effects of individual micropollutants and their relationship to the overall mixture effect in water samples. In this study, a battery of in vitro bioassays based on human and fish cell lines and whole organism assays using bacteria, algae, daphnids and fish embryos was assembled for use in water quality monitoring. The selection of bioassays was guided by the principles of adverse outcome pathways in order to cover relevant steps in toxicity pathways known to be triggered by environmental water samples. The effects of 34 water pollutants, which were selected based on hazard quotients, available environmental quality standards and mode of action information, were fingerprinted in the bioassay test battery. There was a relatively good agreement between the experimental results and available literature effect data. The majority of the chemicals were active in the assays indicative of apical effects, while fewer chemicals had a response in the specific reporter gene assays, but these effects were typically triggered at lower concentrations. The single chemical effect data were used to improve published mixture toxicity modeling of water samples from the Danube River. While there was a slight increase in the fraction of the bioanalytical equivalents explained for the Danube River samples, for some endpoints less than 1% of the observed effect could be explained by the studied chemicals. The new mixture models essentially confirmed previous findings from many studies monitoring water quality using both chemical analysis and bioanalytical tools. In short, our results indicate that many more chemicals contribute to the biological effect than those that are typically quantified by chemical monitoring programs or those regulated by environmental quality standards. This study not only demonstrates the utility of fingerprinting single chemicals for an improved understanding of the biological effect of pollutants, but also highlights the need to apply bioassays for water quality monitoring in order to prevent underestimation of the overall biological effect.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)734-750
JournalWater Research
Early online date9 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2017


  • In vitro , cell-based bioassay , in vivo , fish embryo toxicity test , ToxCast, mixture toxicity