The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-degrading strain Burkholderia sp. RP007 served as host strain for the design of a bacterial biosensor for the detection of phenanthrene. RP007 was transformed with a reporter plasmid containing a transcriptional fusion between the phnS putative promoter/operator region and the gene encoding the enhanced green fluorescent protein (GFP). The resulting bacterial biosensor –Burkholderia sp. strain RP037 – produced significant amounts of GFP after batch incubation in the presence of phenanthrene crystals. Co-incubation with acetate did not disturb the phenanthrene-specific response but resulted in a homogenously responding population of cells. Active metabolism was required for induction with phenanthrene. The magnitude of GFP induction was influenced by physical parameters affecting the phenanthrene flux to the cells, such as the contact surface area between solid phenanthrene and the aqueous phase, addition of surfactant, and slow phenanthrene release from Model Polymer Release System beads or from a water-immiscible oil. These results strongly suggest that the bacterial biosensor can sense different phenanthrene fluxes while maintaining phenanthrene metabolism, thus acting as a genuine sensor for phenanthrene bioavailability. A relationship between GFP production and phenanthrene mass transfer is proposed.
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