We devised a novel tracing approach that involves enriching test organisms with a stable metal isotope of low natural abundance prior to characterizing metal bioavailability from natural inorganic particles. In addition to circumventing uncertainties associated with labeling natural particles and distinguishing background metals, the proposed "reverse labeling" technique overcomes many drawbacks inherent to using radioisotope tracers. Specifically, we chronically exposed freshwater snails (Lymnaea stagnalis) to synthetic water spiked with Cu that was 99.4% 65Cu to increase the relative abundance of 65Cu in the snail’s tissues from 32% to >80%. The isotopically enriched snails were then exposed to benthic algae mixed with Cu-bearing Fe–Al particles collected from the Animas River (Colorado), an acid mine drainage impacted river. We used 63Cu to trace Cu uptake from the natural particles and inferred their bioavailability from calculation of Cu assimilation into tissues. Cu assimilation from these particles was 44%, indicating that 44% of the particulate Cu was absorbed by the invertebrate. This demonstrates that inorganic particulate Cu can be bioavailable. The reverse labeling approach shows great potential in various scientific areas such as environmental contamination and nutrition for addressing questions involving uptake of an element that naturally has multiple isotopes.
Additional publication details
Novel and non-traditional use of stable isotope tracers to study metal bioavailability from natural particles