Development of a Yeast-Based Assay for Bioavailable Phosphorus

Heather A.M. Shepherd, Matt T. Trentman, Jennifer L. Tank, Jennifer Praner, Anissa Cervantes, Priya Chaudhary, Jonah Gezelter, Allyson J. Marrs, Kathryn A. Myers, Jonathan R. Welsh, Yueh Fu O. Wu, Holly V. Goodson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preventing the eutrophication of inland freshwater ecosystems requires quantifying the phosphorus (P) content of the streams and rivers that feed them. Typical methods for measuring P assess soluble reactive P (SRP) or total P (TP) and require expensive analytical techniques that produce hazardous waste. Here, we present a novel, low-tech method for measuring the more relevant bioavailable P (BAP); this assay utilizes the growth of baker’s yeast, avoids the production of hazardous waste, and reduces cost relative to SRP and TP measurements. The yeast BAP (yBAP) assay takes advantage of the observation that yeast density at saturating growth increases linearly with provided P. We show that this relationship can be used to measure P in freshwater in concentration ranges relevant to eutrophication. In addition, we measured yBAP in water containing known amounts of fertilizer and in samples from agricultural waterways. We observed that the majority of yBAP values were between those obtained from standard SRP and TP measurements, demonstrating that the assay is compatible with real-world settings. The cost-effective and nonhazardous nature of the yeast-based assay suggests that it could have utility in a range of settings, offering added insight into identify water systems at risk of eutrophication from excess phosphorus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2020-2028
Number of pages9
JournalACS ES and T Water
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 10 2021


  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • assay
  • bioavailable phosphorus
  • eutrophication
  • whole-cell yeast-based biosensor


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