Bioluminescence is directly tied to the metabolic state of the cell. In general, the higher the metabolic activity is the higher the bioluminescence intensity is. Any inhibition of metabolic reactions causes a decrease in bioluminescence; at the cell’s death, bioluminescence ceases.
This simple concept was used for years to detect toxic compounds in the environment. The advantage of using whole-cell bioreporters versus present day analytical chemical methods is that microorganisms as living beings reflect a bioavialable concentration rather than a total concentration detected by chemical methods. Another clear advantage of bacterial toxicity reporters is their cost. Bacterial cells reproduce themselves; hence production of a sensor is simple and efficient. Finally, because of their small size, bacterial reporters have good potential for miniaturization.
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