The impact of size-fractionated colloidal organic carbon (COC) originating from a biological wastewater treatment facility on the sensitivity of the yeast estrogen screen (YES) bioassay containing the human estrogen receptor (hER) gene was evaluated. Dose-response curves of serially diluted 17β-estradiol (E2), both in the presence and absence of COC, were generated by the YES bioassay. The concentration of E2 leading to a 50% YES response (effective concentration 50%, or EC50) was used to evaluate quantitatively the estrogenic activity of the different COC-E2 mixtures. The EC50 values for all COC size fractions, including COC-free samples (<1 kD), were statistically greater than the controls using Milli-Q water. Normalized EC50 values significantly increased as a function of COC concentration for the larger size fractions (>0.22 μm), but were not significantly affected by smaller COC material at environmental levels (1–5 mg/L), while both colloidal polysaccharide concentrations and colloidal fluorophores (measured at an excitation/emission wavelength pair of 350 nm/450 nm) appear to have an important role in the sensitivity of the YES bioassay. Estimates of the colloid-associated E2 fraction did not predict accurately increases in EC50 values. Matrix effects of the specific environment being tested with the YES bioassay need to be evaluated closely due to the sensitivity of the hER and reporter plasmid.
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