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Chemosphere. 2003 Apr;51(1):47-54.

Toxicity of chlorinated phenoxyacetic acid herbicides in the experimental eukaryotic model Saccharomyces cerevisiae: role of pH and of growth phase and size of the yeast cell population.

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  • 1Centro de Engenharia Biológica e Química, Instituto Superior Técnico, Av. Rovisco Pais, 1049-001, Lisboa, Portugal.


The inhibitory effect of the herbicides 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae growth is strongly dependent on medium pH (range 2.5-6.5). Consistent with the concept that the toxic form is the liposoluble undissociated form, at values close to their pK(a) (3.07 and 2.73, respectively) the toxicity is high, decreasing with the increase of external pH. In addition, the toxicity of identical concentrations of the undissociated acid form is pH independent, as observed with 2,4-dichlorophenol (2,4-DCP), an intermediate of 2,4-D degradation. Consequently, at pH values above 3.5 (approximately one unit higher than 2,4-D pK(a)), 2,4-DCP becomes more toxic than the original herbicide. A dose-dependent inhibition of growth kinetics and increased duration of growth latency is observed following sudden exposure of an unadapted yeast cell population to the presence of the herbicides. This contrasts with the effect of 2,4-DCP, which essentially affects growth kinetics. Experimental evidences suggest that the acid herbicides toxicity is not exclusively dependent on the liposolubility of the toxic form, as may essentially be the case of 2,4-DCP. An unadapted yeast cell population at the early stationary-phase of growth under nutrient limitation is significantly more resistant to short-term herbicide induced death than an exponential-phase population. Consequently, the duration of growth latency is reduced, as observed with the increase of the size of the herbicide stressed population. However, these physiological parameters have no significant effect either on growth kinetics, following growth resumption under herbicide stress, or on the growth curve of yeast cells previously adapted to the herbicides, indicating that their role is exerted at the level of cell adaptation.

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