A set of nine recombinant heavy metal-specific luminescent bacterial sensors belonging to Gram-negative (Escherichia and Pseudomonas
) and Gram-positive (Staphylococcus
) genera and containing various types of recombinant metalresponse genetic elements was characterized for heavy metal bioavailability studies. All nine strains were induced by Hg and Cd and five strains also by Zn. As a lowest limit, the sensors were detecting 0.03 μg·L-1
of Hg, 2 μg·L-1
of Cd and 400 μg·L-1
of Zn. Limit of determination of the sensors depended mostly on metal-response element, whereas the toxicity of those metals towards the sensor bacteria was mostly dependent on the type of the host bacterium, with Gram-positive strains being more sensitive than Gram-negative ones. The set of sensors was used to evaluate bioavailability of Hg, Cd and Zn in spiked soils. The bioavailable fraction of Cd and Zn in soil suspension assay (2.6 – 5.1% and 0.32 – 0.61%, of the total Cd and Zn, respectively) was almost comparable for all the sensors, whereas the bioavailability of Hg was about 10-fold higher for Gram-negative sensor cells (30.5% of total Hg), compared to Gram-positive ones (3.2% of the total Hg). For Zn, the bioavailable fraction in soil-water suspensions and respective extracts was comparable (0.37 versus
0.33% of the total Zn). However, in the case of Cd, for all the sensors used and for Hg concerning only Gram-negative sensor strains, the bioavailable fraction in soilwater suspensions exceeded the water-extracted fraction about 14-fold, indicating that upon direct contact, an additional fraction of Cd and Hg was mobilized by those sensor bacteria. Thus, for robust bioavailability studies of heavy metals in soils any type of genetic metal-response elements could be used for the construction of the sensor strains. However, Gram-positive and Gram-negative senor strains should be used in parallel as the bioavailability of heavy metals to those bacterial groups may be different.