Despite the large number of bioreporters developed to date, the ability to detect heavy metal(loid)s with bioreporters has thus far been limited owing to the lack of appropriate genetic systems. We here present a novel approach to modulate the selectivity and sensitivity of microbial whole-cell bioreporters (WCBs) for sensing metal(loid)s via the znt-operon from Escherichia coli, which were applied to quantify the bioavailability of these contaminants in environmental samples. The WCB harboring the fusion gene zntAp::egfp was used as a microbial metal(loid) sensor, which was turned on by the interaction between ZntR and metal(loid) ions. This design makes it possible to modulate the selectivity and sensitivity to metal(loid)s simply by changing the metal-binding property of ZntR and by disrupting the metal efflux system of E. coli, respectively. In fact, the E. coli cell-based bioreporter harboring zntAp::egfp showed multi-target responses to Cd(II), Hg(II), and Zn(II). However, the WCBs showed responses toward only Cd(II) and Hg(II) when the amino acid sequence of the metal-binding loop of ZntR was changed to CNHEPGTVCPIC and CPGDDSADC, respectively. Moreover, the sensitivity toward both Cd(II) and Hg(II) was enhanced when copA, which is known to export copper and silver, was deleted. Thus, our findings provide a strong foundation for expanding the target of WCBs from the currently limited number of genetic systems available.
Cadmium copA Heavy metals Mercury Whole-cell bioreporter Znt-operon
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This study was supported by the Basic Science Research Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (2015R1C1A1A02037275 and 2017R1E1A1A01073894 to Y.Y.)
Compliance with ethical standards
This article did not involve any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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