The feasibility of using a rapid adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence detection assay as an objective means of assessing the presence of biological contamination on laboratory surfaces

Rachel K Gamble, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Upon investigation, the underlying causes of many reported laboratory associated illnesses (LAI) are often not objectively identified. The presumption among many in the biosafety community is that such illnesses stem largely from either poor laboratory technique or surface contamination in the laboratory. While training and practice can enhance laboratory technique, evaluation of the efficacy of existing laboratory cleaning procedures of laboratory surfaces is typically not performed. This is not the case for laboratories working with radioactive materials, where assessments for radioactive contamination are routinely performed using filter paper disks or cotton tipped swabs wiped on surfaces and analyzed for the amount of radioactivity collected. Industrial hygienists also conduct surface sampling for metals and hexavalent chromium contamination. In food processing industries, rapid adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence (ATB) detection wipes are regularly performed to confirm surface decontamination. The presence of ATB on surfaces is indicative of the presence of organic material that may harbor infectious organisms. The rapid ATB assay, also referred to as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), is regarded as one of the few predictive diagnostic tools available to avert a major contamination incident in the food industry. The same technology holds potential for application in the biomedical research laboratory setting. This research project established benchmark ATP values for five types of laboratory surfaces and also assessed the effectiveness of current laboratory cleaning practices. Baseline ATP, aerobic colony count (ACC), and visual readings for five laboratory surface types cleaned with a fresh 10% dilution of 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (Clorox bleach) were obtained as controls against which to compare experimental readings. After baseline readings were established, the five laboratory surfaces in 10 laboratories at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health were assessed every 7 days using ATP, ACC, and visual methods. The results obtained from this study established benchmark values for 5 research related surfaces in a laboratory using 10% bleach solution as a disinfectant. Longitudinal results obtained indicated a difference in failure percentages between ACC, ATP, and visual methods to assess biological surface contamination on research-related surfaces in laboratories. A greater failure percentage was observed for ATP than for ACC and visual methods, and ACC had a greater failure percentage than the visual method. The ATP assessment method was statistically better (P = < 0.001) at identifying surface contamination by organic matter versus the ACC and visual methods. Surfaces deemed passing by visual and ACC methods were significantly less likely to be classified as pass by the ATP method. It is important to note that the absence of surface contamination does not translate into no LAI, but that real-time ATP monitoring for surface contamination could lead to a reduction in LAI numbers via reducing an exposure route.

Subject Area

Microbiology|Environmental Health

Recommended Citation

Gamble, Rachel K, "The feasibility of using a rapid adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence detection assay as an objective means of assessing the presence of biological contamination on laboratory surfaces" (2014). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3635430.