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Aquat Toxicol. 2009 Jan 18;91(1):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2008.09.009. Epub 2008 Sep 21.

Ecophysiological tolerance of duckweeds exposed to copper.

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Centre for Functional Ecology, Department of Botany, University of Coimbra, Coimbra 3000-456, Portugal.


Although essential for plants, copper can be toxic when present in supra-optimal concentrations. Metal polluted sites, due to their extreme conditions, can harbour tolerant species and/or ecotypes. In this work we aimed to compare the physiological responses to copper exposure and the uptake capacities of two species of duckweed, Lemna minor (Lm(EC1)) and Spirodela polyrrhiza (SP), from an abandoned uranium mine with an ecotype of L. minor (Lm(EC2)) from a non-contaminated pond. From the lowest Cu concentration exposure (25microM) to the highest (100microM), Lm(EC2) accumulated higher amounts of copper than Lm(EC1) and SP. Dose-response curves showed that Cu content accumulated by Lm(EC2) increases linearly with Cu treatment concentrations (r(2)=0.998) whereas quadratic models were more suitable for Lm(EC1) and SP (r(2)=0.999 and r(2)=0.998 for Lm(EC1) and SP, respectively). A significant concentration-dependent decline of chlorophyll a (chl a) and carotenoid occurred as a consequence of Cu exposure. These declines were significant for Lm(EC2) exposed to the lowest Cu concentration (25microM) whereas for Lm(EC1) and SP a significant decrease in chl a and carotenoids was observed only at 50 and 100microM-Cu. Electric conductivity (EC) and malondialdehyde (MDA) content increased after Cu exposure, indicating oxidative stress. Significant increase of EC was observed in Lm(EC2) for all Cu concentrations whereas the increase for Lm(EC1) and SP became significant only after an exposure to 50microM-Cu. On the contrary, for Lm(EC1), SP, and Lm(EC2), MDA content significantly increased even at the lowest concentration. Protein content and catalase (CAT) activity showed a decrease with an increase in Cu concentration. For the species Lm(EC1) and SP, a significant effect of copper on CAT activity was observed only at the highest concentration (100microM-Cu) whereas, for Lm(EC2), this effect started to be significant after an exposure to 50microM-Cu. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity increased with increasing concentrations of Cu, with a very similar trend between the three populations of duckweed. However, due to the facts that enzyme activity is expressed as units of activity per gram of protein and that protein content decreased with Cu exposure, the increase in SOD activity might partly result from a relative increase of this enzyme inside the pool of proteins. Consequently, the results obtained in our experimental conditions strongly suggest that duckweed species from the uranium-polluted area have developed mechanisms to cope with metal toxicity and that this tolerance is based on the existence of protective mechanism to limit the metal uptake rather than on an enhancement of the antioxidative metabolism.

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