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EMBO J. Jun 15, 1999; 18(12): 3325–3333.
PMCID: PMC1171413

Tolerance to toxic metals by a gene family of phytochelatin synthases from plants and yeast.


Phytochelatins play major roles in metal detoxification in plants and fungi. However, genes encoding phytochelatin synthases have not yet been identified. By screening for plant genes mediating metal tolerance we identified a wheat cDNA, TaPCS1, whose expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae results in a dramatic increase in cadmium tolerance. TaPCS1 encodes a protein of approximately 55 kDa with no similarity to proteins of known function. We identified homologs of this new gene family from Arabidopsis thaliana, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, and interestingly also Caenorhabditis elegans. The Arabidopsis and S.pombe genes were also demonstrated to confer substantial increases in metal tolerance in yeast. PCS-expressing cells accumulate more Cd2+ than controls. PCS expression mediates Cd2+ tolerance even in yeast mutants that are either deficient in vacuolar acidification or impaired in vacuolar biogenesis. PCS-induced metal resistance is lost upon exposure to an inhibitor of glutathione biosynthesis, a process necessary for phytochelatin formation. Schizosaccharomyces pombe cells disrupted in the PCS gene exhibit hypersensitivity to Cd2+ and Cu2+ and are unable to synthesize phytochelatins upon Cd2+ exposure as determined by HPLC analysis. Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells expressing PCS produce phytochelatins. Moreover, the recombinant purified S.pombe PCS protein displays phytochelatin synthase activity. These data demonstrate that PCS genes encode phytochelatin synthases and mediate metal detoxification in eukaryotes.

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