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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 May 1;42(9):3201-6.

Volatile arsenic species released from Escherichia coli expressing the AsIII S-adenosylmethionine methyltransferase gene.

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Analytical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University ofAlberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G3, Canada.


Biological systems, ranging from bacteria and fungi to humans, can methylate arsenic. Recent studies have suggested that the AsIII S-adenosylmethionine methyltransferase (arsM) gene in bacteria was responsible for the removal of arsenic as the volatile arsines from the bacteria. However, there has been no direct measure of the arsines released from bacteria cultures. We describe here an integrated system incorporating the bacterial incubation and volatile arsenic species analysis, and we demonstrate its application to the identification of the volatile arsines produced in bacterial cultures. The headspace of the bacterial cultures was purged with helium, and the volatile arsenic species were trapped in a chromatographic column immersed in liquid nitrogen. The cryogenically trapped arsines [AsH3, (CH3)AsH2, (CH3)2AsH, and (CH3)3As] were separated by gas chromatography and were detected by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. A hydride generation system was coupled to the bacterial culture system, allowing for spiking standards and for generating calibration arsines necessary for quantitative analysis. Both bacteria containing the arsM gene or its variant arsMC2 gene were able to produce 400-500 ng of trimethylarsine. No trimethylarsine was detectable in bacteria lacking the arsM gene (containing the vector plasmid as negative control). These results confirm that arsM is responsible for releasing arsenic as volatile species from the arsenic-resistant bacteria. Our results also show traces of AsH3, CH3AsH2, and (CH3)2AsH in cultures of bacteria expressing arsM. The method detection limits for AsH3, CH3AsH2, (CH3)2AsH, and (CH3)3As were 0.5, 0.5, 0.7, and 0.6 pg, respectively. The ability to quantify trace levels of these volatile arsenic species makes it possible to study the biotransformation and biochemical roles of the evolution of these volatile arsenic species by biological systems.

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