A Cu-sensitive mutant, cup1-1, of Arabidopsis thaliana has a pattern of heavy-metal sensitivity different from that of the cad1 and cad2 mutants, which are deficient in phytochelatin biosynthesis. The latter are significantly sensitive to Cd and Hg and only slightly sensitive to Cu, whereas the cup1-1 mutant is significantly sensitive to Cu, slightly sensitive to Cd, and not more sensitive to Hg, compared to the wild type. Genetic analysis has shown that the sensitive phenotype is recessive to the wild type and segregates as a single Mendelian locus, which has been mapped to chromosome 1. Genetic and biochemical studies demonstrate that the cup1-1 mutant is not affected in phytochelatin biosynthesis or function. The sensitive phenotype of the cup1-1 mutant is associated with, and probably due to, increased accumulation of higher levels of Cd and Cu compared with the wild type. Consistent with this, a Cu-inducible, root-specific metallothionein gene, MT2a, is expressed in cup1-1 roots under conditions in which it is not expressed in the wild type. Undifferentiated cup1-1 callus tissue did not show the Cu-sensitive phenotype, suggesting that the mutant phenotype, in contrast to cad1 and cad2, is not expressed at the cellular level.