The alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE) or Comet assay was employed to test the potential of surficial sediment collected from Cork Harbor, Ireland, to induce DNA damage in turbot (
Scophthalmus maximusL.) in a laboratory exposure experiment. Turbot were exposed for 21 days to field‐collected sediment from Cork Harbor and from a relatively clean reference site at Ballymacoda and sampled at 0, 7, 14, and 21 days. As a positive control for the sediment exposure experiment, a subsample of the turbot was exposed to cadmium chloride‐spiked seawater. DNA damage analysis was performed on epidermal, gill, spleen, liver, and whole blood cell preparations. Liver, gill, and blood were the most sensitive tissues while a lower level of damage was detected in the epidermis and spleen. The blood was determined to be a suitable predictor of DNA damage in the whole organism. Chemical analysis of the sediment indicated that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons formed the bulk of the contaminants, with the harbor sites having almost double the levels of those from the reference site. The data indicated that turbot exposed to sediments from Cork Harbor elicited a significant increase in DNA damage in comparison with those exposed to sediment from the reference site and that exposure to the contaminated sediments caused a multi‐organ genotoxic response. Results from the study indicate a relationship between the presence of genotoxicants in sediment and DNA damage. This finding was encouraging with regard to the potential use of the Comet assay as part of a marine biomonitoring strategy. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 44:56–64, 2004. © 2004 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.