Journal of Industrial Microbiology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 76–84 | Cite as

Caesium accumulation by microorganisms: uptake mechanisms, cation competition, compartmentalization and toxicity

  • Simon V. Avery


The continued release of caesium radioisotopes into the environment has led to a resurgence of interest in microbe-Cs interactions. Caesium exists almost exclusively as the monovalent cation Cs+ in the natural environment. Although Cs+ is a weak Lewis acid that exhibits a low tendency to form complexes with ligands, its chemical similarity to the biologically essential alkali cation K+ facilitates high levels of metabolism-dependent intracellular accumulation. Microbial Cs+ (K+) uptake is generally mediated by monovalent cation transport systems located on the plasma membrane. These differe widely in specificity for alkali cations and consequently microorganisms display large differences in their ability to accumulate Cs+; Cs+ appears to have an equal or greater affinity than K+ for transport in certain microorganisms. Microbial Cs+ accumulation is markedly influenced by the presence of external cations, e.g. K+, Na+, NH4+ and H+, and is generally accompanied by an approximate stoichiometric exchange for intracellular K+. However, stimulation of growth of K+-starved microbial cultures by Cs+ is limited and its has been proposed that it is not the presence of Cs+ in cells that is growth inhibitory but rather the resulting loss of K+. Increased microbial tolerance to Cs+ may result from sequestration of Cs+ in vacuoles or changes in the activity and/or specificity of transport systems mediating Cs+ uptake. The precise intracellular target(s) for Cs+-induced toxicity has yet to be clearly defined, although certain internal structures, e.g. ribosomes, become unstable in the presence of Cs+ and Cs+ is known to substitute poorly for K+ in the activation of many K+-requiring enzymes.

Key words

Caesium Caesium uptake Caesium toxicity Metal-microbe interactions Monovalent cation transport 


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© Society for Industrial Microbiology 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon V. Avery
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Pure and Applied BiologyUniversity of Wales College of CardiffCardiffUK
  2. 2.School of Biological and Molecular SciencesOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK

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