The Comet Assay and its applications in the field of ecotoxicology: A mature tool that continues to expand its perspectives

Joaquín de Lapuente, Joana Lourenço, Sónia A. Mendo, Miquel Borràs, Marta G. Martins, P.M. Costa, Mário Pacheco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Since Singh and colleagues, in 1988, launched to the scientific community the alkaline Single Cell Gel Electrophoresis (SCGE) protocol, or Comet Assay, its uses and applications has been increasing. The thematic areas of its current employment in the evaluation of genetic toxicity are vast, either in vitro or in vivo, both in the laboratory and in the environment, terrestrial or aquatic. It has been applied to a wide range of experimental models: bacteria, fungi, cells culture, arthropods, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and humans. This document is intended to be a comprehensive review of what has been published to date on the field of ecotoxicology, aiming at the following main aspects: (i) to show the most relevant experimental models used as bioindicators both in the laboratory and in the field. Fishes are clearly the most adopted group, reflecting their popularity as bioindicator models, as well as a primary concern over the aquatic environment health. Amphibians are among the most sensitive organisms to environmental changes, mainly due to an early aquatic-dependent development stage and a highly permeable skin. Moreover, in the terrestrial approach, earthworms, plants or mammalians are excellent organisms to be used as experimental models for genotoxic evaluation of pollutants, complex mix of pollutants and chemicals, in both laboratory and natural environment. (ii) To review the development and modifications of the protocols used and the cell types (or tissues) used. The most recent developments concern the adoption of the enzyme linked assay (digestion with lesion-specific repair endonucleases) and prediction of the ability to repair of oxidative DNA damage, which is becoming a widespread approach, albeit challenging. For practical/technical reasons, blood is the most common choice but tissues/cells like gills, sperm cells, early larval stages, coelomocytes, liver or kidney have been also used. (iii) To highlight correlations with other biomarkers. (iv) To build a constructive criticism and summarize the needs for protocol improvements for future test applications within the field of ecotoxicology. The Comet Assay is still developing and its potential is yet underexploited in experimental models, mesocosmos or natural ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Amphibians
  • Comet Assay
  • Earthworms
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Mollusks
  • Piscine model
  • Plants


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