Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Stephen Kaattari


Petroleum is one of the most important natural resources, but can also be problematic to environmental and human health. Petroleum is comprised of thousands of compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocycles, some of which are toxic and/or carcinogenic. Traditional analytical methods for environmental monitoring of low-level PAHs are time-consuming labor-intensive, and often laboratory-bound. Efforts to achieve timely, sensitive, and accurate analysis of PAHs in the field have become a priority for environmental research and monitoring. Antibody-based biosensors are presently being developed for environmental analysis. Anti-PAH antibody molecules can be coupled with electronic transducers to provide new biosensor technology for the rapid determination and quantification of PAHs. Although PAHs are not immunogenic on their own, advances in immunology have provided the means to develop antibodies to PAHs. Thiophenes, a defined subset of aromatic heterocycles, were selected as the target molecules for antibody development. Characterization of a monoclonal antibody (mAb) to dibenzothiophene revealed specificity for 3 to 5-ring PAHs and heterocycles. Therefore, the goals of antibody development were focused on developing additional antibodies to 2-ring PAHs and to alkylated PAHs. Characterization of antibodies to these novel targets revealed unexpected insights into antibody induction and specificity: namely suitable hapten sizes for small hydrophobic molecule recognition should be larger than one benzene ring, derivatization of the hapten target in immunogen synthesis must preserve structural characteristics, the utility of heterologous assay formats can improve antibody inhibition, and high antibody titers can result in limited assay sensitivity. The anti-dibenzothiophene mAb 7B2.3 was employed, along with a fluorescence-based transducer, for the generation of a new biosensor for PAHs. The biosensor was utilized in a variety of different applications to determine dissolved PAH concentrations including: 1) sampling groundwater at a former wood-treatment (creosote) facility, 2) analyzing estuarine water during the dredging of PAH-contaminated sediments, revealing a plume of PAHs emanating from the dredge site, 3) frequent monitoring of phenanthrene (a 3-ring PAH) concentrations during a laboratory toxicological dosing study, and 4) monitoring PAH concentrations in stormwater runoff into both a retention pond and a river near a roadway. Overall, these applications demonstrated the utility of this biosensor for rapid analysis of PAHs in a variety of aqueous environments. The biosensor was operated on-site for both the estuarine and groundwater monitoring trials. The biosensor could process samples, produce quantitative measurements, and regenerate itself in approximately 10 minutes. Sample volumes of 400 mul could be used with little to no sample pretreatment. Most importantly, PAHs could be quantified down to 0.3 microg/l in the field using the sensor platform. These results were validated with conventional gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and high performance liquid chromatography analytical methods. This system shows great promise as a field instrument for the rapid monitoring of PAH pollution.



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