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Nat Biotechnol. 1998 Oct;16(10):925-8.

Development of transgenic yellow poplar for mercury phytoremediation.

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Daniel B. Warnell School of Forest Resources, Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens 30602, USA.


We examined the ability of yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) tissue cultures and plantlets to express modified mercuric reductase (merA) gene constructs. Mercury-resistant bacteria express merA to convert highly toxic, ionic mercury, Hg(II), to much less toxic, elemental mercury, Hg(O). Expression of merA in transgenic plants might provide an ecologically compatible approach for the remediation of mercury pollution. Because the alteration of the bacterial merA gene sequence is necessary for high-level expression in Arabidopsis thaliana, yellow poplar proembryogenic masses (PEMs) were transformed with three modified merA constructs via microprojectile bombardment. Each construct was synthesized to have altered flanking regions with increasing amounts of modified coding sequence. All merA constructs conferred resistance to toxic, ionic mercury in independently transformed PEM colonies. Stability of merA transgene expression increased in parallel with the extent of gene coding sequence modification. Regenerated plantlets containing the most modified merA gene (merA18) germinated and grew vigorously in media containing normally toxic levels of ionic mercury. The merA18 plantlets released elemental mercury at approximately 10 times the rate of untransformed plantlets. These results indicate that plants expressing modified merA constructs may provide a means for the phytoremediation of mercury pollution.

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