Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.
A method for the quantitation of the effects on a biological system by its exposure to a substance, as well as the quantitation of the concentration of a substance by some observable effect on a biological system. The biological material in which the effect is measured can range from subcellular components and microorganisms to groups of animals. The substance can be stimulatory, such as an ion increasing taxis behavior in certain protozoans, or inhibitory, such as an antibiotic for bacterial growth. Bioassays are most frequently used when there is a number of steps, usually poorly understood, between the substance and the behavior observed, or when the substance is a complex mixture of materials and it is not clear what the active components are. Bioassays can be replaced, in time, by either a more direct measure of concentration of the active principle, such as an analytical method (for example, mass spectrometry, high-pressure liquid chromatography, radioimmunoassay), or a more direct measurement of the effect, such as binding to a surface receptor in the case of many drugs, as the substance or its mechanism of action is better characterized.
Assays to quantitate the effects of an exposure model the effect of a substance in the real world. Complex biological responses can be estimated by laboratory culture tests, which use, for example, bacteria or cells cultured in a petri dish (usually to model an effect either on the organism of interest, such as bacteria, or on some basic cellular function); by tissue or organ culture, which isolates pieces of tissue or whole organs in a petri dish (usually to model organ function); or in whole animals (usually to model complex organismic relationships).