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Phytoremediation of methylmercury pollution: merB expression in Arabidopsis thaliana confers resistance to organomercurials

Authors
Publisher
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Source
PMC
Keywords
  • Biological Sciences
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Engineering
  • Geography
  • Medicine

Abstract

Methylmercury is an environmental toxicant that biomagnifies and causes severe neurological degeneration in animals. It is produced by bacteria in soils and sediments that have been contaminated with mercury. To explore the potential of plants to extract and detoxify this chemical, we engineered a model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to express a modified bacterial gene, merBpe, encoding organomercurial lyase (MerB) under control of a plant promoter. MerB catalyzes the protonolysis of the carbon—mercury bond, removing the organic ligand and releasing Hg(II), a less mobile mercury species. Transgenic plants expressing merBpe grew vigorously on a wide range of concentrations of monomethylmercuric chloride and phenylmercuric acetate. Plants lacking the merBpe gene were severely inhibited or died at the same organomercurial concentrations. Six independently isolated transgenic lines produced merBpe mRNA and MerB protein at levels that varied over a 10- to 15-fold range, and even the lowest levels of merBpe expression conferred resistance to organomercurials. Our work suggests that native macrophytes (e.g., trees, shrubs, grasses) engineered to express merBpe may be used to degrade methylmercury at polluted sites and sequester Hg(II) for later removal.

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