Main content area

Earthworm-induced carboxylesterase activity in soil: Assessing the potential for detoxification and monitoring organophosphorus pesticides

Sanchez-Hernandez, Juan C., Notario del Pino, J., Domínguez, Jorge
Ecotoxicology and environmental safety 2015 v.122 pp. 303-312
Lumbricus terrestris, biomarkers, carboxylesterase, chlorpyrifos, dose response, earthworms, enzyme activity, homogenization, in vitro studies, kinetics, metabolites, microbial activity, monitoring, pesticide formulations, soil degradation, soil enzymes, soil microorganisms, soil pollution, soil water, toxicity
Soil enzyme activities are attracting widespread interest due to its potential use in contaminant breakdown, and as indicators of soil deterioration. However, given the multiple environmental and methodological factors affecting their activity levels, assessment of soil pollution using these biochemical endpoints is still complex. Taking advantage of the well-known stimulatory effect of earthworms on soil microbes, and their associated enzyme activities, we explored some toxicological features of carboxylesterases (CbEs) in soils inoculated with Lumbricus terrestris. A microplate-scale spectrophotometric assay using soil–water suspensions was first optimized, in which kinetic assay parameters (Km, Vmax, dilution of soil homogenate, and duration of soil homogenization) were established for further CbE determinations. Optimal conditions included a soil-to-water ratio of 1:50 (w/v), 30-min of shaking, and 2.5mM of substrate concentration. As expected, CbE activity increased significantly in soils treated with L. terrestris. This bioturbed soil was used for exploring the role of CbE activity as a bioscavenger for organophosphorus (OP) pesticides. Soil treated with two formulations of chlorpyrifos revealed that CbE activity was a significant molecular sink for this pesticide, reducing its impact on soil microbial activity as shown by the unchanged dehydrogenase activity. Dose-dependent curves were adjusted to an exponential kinetic model, and the median ecological dose (ED50) for both pesticide formulations was calculated. ED50 values decreased as the time of pesticide exposure increased (14d-ED50s=20.4–26.7mgkg−1, and 28d-ED50s=1.8–2.3mgkg−1), which suggested that chlorpyrifos was progressively transformed into its highly toxic metabolite chlorpyrifos-oxon, but simultaneously was inactivated by CbEs. These results were confirmed by in vitro assays that showed chlorpyrifos-oxon was a more potent CbE inhibitor (IC50=35.5–4.67nM) than chlorpyrifos (0.41–0.84μM). The results showed that earthworm-induced CbE activity is an efficient bioscavengers for OP pesticides, acting as a soil safeguarding system. Moreover, the simple dose-response curves against OP exposure suggest that this enzyme – combined with other enzyme activities (e.g., dehydrogenase) – may be a suitable biomarker of pesticide exposure.