Continuous culture systems allow for the controlled growth of microorganisms over a long period of time. Here, we develop a novel test for mutagenicity that involves growing yeast in continuous culture systems exposed to low levels of mutagen for a period of weeks. In contrast, most microorganism-based tests for mutagenicity expose the potential mutagen to the biological reporter at a high concentration of mutagen for a short period of time. Our test improves upon the sensitivity of the well-established Ames test by at least 20-fold for each of two mutagens that act by different mechanisms (the intercalator ethidium bromide and alkylating agent methylmethane sulfonate). To conduct the tests, cultures were grown in small, inexpensive continuous culture systems in media containing (potential) mutagen, and the resulting mutagenicity of the added compound was assessed via two methods: a canavanine-based plate assay and whole genome sequencing. In the canavanine-based plate assay, we were able to detect a clear relationship between the amount of mutagen and the number of canavanine-resistant mutant colonies over a period of one to three weeks of exposure. Whole genome sequencing of yeast grown in continuous culture systems exposed to MMS demonstrated that quantification of mutations is possible by identifying the number of unique variants across each strain but with lower sensitivity than the plate-based assay. In conclusion, we propose yeast grown in continuous culture systems can provide an improved and more sensitive test for mutagenicity.
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