Joint toxic effects on Caenorhabditis elegans

M.J. Jonker

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In polluted areas organisms are generally exposed to mixtures of toxic chemicals rather than a single toxicant only. Since the number of mixture toxicity studies with regard to soil systems is limited, the research in this thesis was focused on investigating ecotoxicological consequences of combined exposure for soil invertebrates. Two topics were studied: i) population-level consequences of chronic combined exposure of individual organisms, and ii) the influence of interactions between the toxic compounds in the soil matrix on their joint toxicity. The soil dwelling, free living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans was chosen as test species.

A quantitative description procedure was proposed for interpreting the joint toxicity of chemical mixtures, compared to the toxicity of the individual components. It enabled the identification of four biologically relevant deviation patterns from either the additive or the independent reference model, by means of likelihood analysis: i) no deviation, ii) synergism/antagonism, iii) toxicant ratio- and iiii) effect level dependent deviation. Using these models, sublethal effects of chronic stress of binary mixtures of copper and cadmium, and copper and carbendazim on life cycle events of the nematode C. elegans were studied. The cadmium-copper effect on reproduction was transient: it changed from synergistic, to a toxicant ratio dependent deviation from additivity. The effect of copper-carbendazim was synergistic at low effect levels and antagonistic at high effect levels. The juvenile period was a relatively non-sensitive parameter, whereas the length of the reproductive period was relatively more sensitive. In conclusion, it should be realised that mixture toxicity may be transient and that interactions may differ among life history traits.

It was discussed that the effect translation of combined effects to the population level depended on three factors: i) the sensitivity of each life history trait to each of the toxicants, ii) the combination effect of the toxicants on each life history trait, iii) the sensitivity of to changes in each life history trait. A detailed analysis of mixture effects on the life history of nematodeCaenorhabditis elegans showed that synergistic effects on reproduction were transferred to the population level, despite the low sensitivity of λ to changes in this trait.

Subsequently single and combined toxicity of copper-zinc, copper-cadmium, cadmium-lead, copper-carbendazim and copper-carbendazim-iprodione to the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans were studied in LUFA 2.2 soil , and the one-week population increase was estimated as toxicity endpoint. Metals with the highest partition coefficient affected the sorption of metals with the lowest partition coefficient when both were combined. However, comparing soil sorption characteristics with joint toxicity patterns did not give general results. Nevertheless, it was discussed that for identifying fundamental principles of joint toxicity in ecotoxicology, and for developing predictive models, ecological "mechanisms" should be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bakker, Jaap, Promotor
  • Kammenga, Jan, Co-promotor
Award date2 May 2003
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789058088413
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • caenorhabditis elegans
  • toxic substances
  • mixtures
  • toxicity
  • soil
  • data analysis
  • ecotoxicology


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