Bioassays for the detection of growth-promoting agents, veterinary drugs and environmental contaminants in food†
Residues of growth-promoting agents, veterinary drugs and environmental contaminants in food products are routinely analyzed with chemical–analytical methods, using physical and spectrometric properties of a compound. Since residue limits are in general based on biological properties of compounds, bioassays offer in theory a good alternative. As a consequence, these assays are much more suitable for the detection of mixtures of compounds with common biological properties, including possibly unknown agonists. Using modern molecular biological techniques, a new generation of bioassays has been developed, showing in general a higher sensitivity and specificity for the target compounds. The CALUX (chemical activated luciferase expression) assay was developed for the detection of polyhalogenated compounds, based on their affinity for the aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor. This paper focuses on the specificity of the assay. The benzimidazole compounds oxfendazole, fenbendazole, febantel, thiabendazole, mebendazole, omeprazole, lanzoprazole and benomyl were shown to give a positive response in the assay. Similar results were obtained with dexamethasone, corticosterone and cortisol, which in addition were able to enhance the response obtained with TCDD. Similarly to the flavonoids α- and β-naphtoflavone, the reported Ah receptor antagonist 4-amino-3-methoxyflavone showed a strong positive response at a concentration of 400 µM, but failed to inhibit the response obtained with TCDD. It is concluded that the chances of false-negative results appear to be minimal and can be recognized. False-positive or, better, unwanted results are in theory more likely to occur. Possible solutions to avoid or detect these type of results are discussed. In general, these kinds of assays offer great possibilities for screening of food samples. In addition to the further optimization of these assays, future work should be focused on the development of rapid, simple and selective extraction procedures.