Microbial potentiometric sensor technology for real-time detecting and monitoring of toxic metals in aquatic matrices

Frank C. Brown, Scott R. Burge, Kiril D. Hristovski, Russell G. Burge, Evan Taylor, David A. Hoffman


Considering that toxic metals can affect metabolic processes in microorganisms adversely, it can be hypothesized that these metals in water matrices would induce a decrease in metabolic activity of the biofilm microorganisms populating the surface of a sensing electrode, which could be registered as a change in the open-circuit potential (OCP) generated by the biofilm microorganisms. The goal of this study was to test this hypothesis and demonstrate the underlying principle that microbial potentiometric sensor (MPS) technology could be used for long-term and real-time monitoring and detection of rapid changes in metal concentrations in realistic aquatic environments. To address the goal, four objective were addressed: (1) a batch reactor with three graphite-based MPS electrodes was fabricated; (2) a set of single-ion solutions  and one multiple ion solution were prepared  reflecting realistic concentrations of metals found in electroplating wastewaters; (3) the responses of the MPS to the simultaneous presence of multiple toxic metal ions in a single solution were measured; and (4) the changes of the MPS signals to the presence of individual  metal ion solutions were examined. While the hypothesis was validated, the study also revealed that the MPS was sufficiently sensitive to not only detect, but also quantify, toxic metal ion concentrations in aqueous solutions. The coefficients of determination, which were R2>0.995, and responsiveness of <1 μmol/L for some toxic metal cations, strongly support the performance  of MPS technology in the echelons of expensive analytical tools capable detecting and measuring trace elements.The magnitude of the MPS response was toxic metal specific. When the molar concertation normalizes the inhibition portion of the signal area, the assessed sensitivity order was: Se>Cd>Pb>Ag>Ni> Zn.  The study provides valuable information for enforcement agents, environmental professionals, and wastewater treatment operators, so toxic metal pollution and its detrimental impacts can be  prevented and mitigated.


sensor; microbial; potentiometric; toxic metals; water; electroplating;

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20450/mjcce.2020.2088


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