The input of anthropogenic contaminants to the aquatic environment is a major concern for scientists, regulators and the public. This is especially relevant in areas such as the Tamar valley in SW England, which has a legacy of contamination from industrial activity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Following on from previous laboratory validation studies, this study aimed to assess the relationship between genotoxic and cytotoxic responses and heavy metal concentrations in two bivalve species sampled from locations along the Tamar estuary. Adult cockles, Cerastoderma edule, and blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, were sampled from five locations in the Tamar and one reference location on the south Devon coast. Bivalve haemocytes were processed for comet and neutral red retention (NRR) assays to determine potential genotoxic and cytotoxic effects, respectively. Sediment and soft tissue samples were analysed for metal content by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Sediment concentrations were consistent with the physico-chemical nature of the Tamar estuary. A significant correlation (P = 0.05) was found between total metal concentration in sediment and C. edule soft tissues, but no such correlation was found for M. edulis samples. DNA damage was elevated at the site with highest Cr concentrations for M. edulis and at the site with highest Ni and Pb concentrations for C. edule. Analysis of NRR revealed a slight increase in retention time at one site, in contrast to comet data. We conclude that the comet assay is a reliable indicator of genotoxic damage in the field for both M. edulis and C. edule and discuss reasons for the apparent discrepancy with NRR.



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Publication Title

Environ Monit Assess





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Organisational Unit

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences


Animals, Cardiidae, Comet Assay, DNA Damage, England, Environmental Monitoring, Estuaries, Metals, Heavy, Mutagens, Mytilus edulis, Neutral Red, Seawater, Water Pollutants, Chemical

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.