For the rapid and reliable detection of oxidized contaminants (i.e., nitrite, nitrate, perchlorate, dichromate) in water, a novel toxicity detection methodology based on sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB) has been developed. The methodology exploits the ability of SOB to oxidize elemental sulfur to sulfuric acid in the presence of oxygen. The reaction results in an increase in electrical conductivity (EC) and a decrease in pH. When oxidized contaminants were added to the system, the effluent EC decreased and the pH increased due to the inhibition of the SOB. We found that the system can detect these contaminants in the 5-50 ppb range (in the case of NO3-, 10 ppm was detected), which is lower than many whole-cell biosensors to date. At low pH, the oxidized contaminants are mostly in their acid or nonpolar, protonated form which act as uncouplers and make the SOB biosensor more sensitive than other whole-cell biosensors which operate at higher pH values where the contaminants exist as dissociated anions. The SOB biosensor can detect toxicity on the order of minutes to hours which can serve as an early warning so as to not pollute the environment and affect public health.
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