Microbial responses to environmental arsenic
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Microorganisms have evolved dynamic mechanisms for facing the toxicity of arsenic in the environment. In this sense, arsenic speciation and mobility is also affected by the microbial metabolism that participates in the biogeochemical cycle of the element. The ars operon constitutes the most ubiquitous and important scheme of arsenic tolerance in bacteria. This system mediates the extrusion of arsenite out of the cells. There are also other microbial activities that alter the chemical characteristics of arsenic: some strains are able to oxidize arsenite or reduce arsenate as part of their respiratory processes. These type of microorganisms require membrane associated proteins that transfer electrons from or to arsenic (AoxAB and ArrAB, respectively). Other enzymatic transformations, such as methylation-demethylation reactions, exchange inorganic arsenic into organic forms contributing to its complex environmental turnover. This short review highlights recent studies in ecology, biochemistry and molecular biology of these processes in bacteria, and also provides some examples of genetic engineering for enhanced arsenic accumulation based on phytochelatins or metallothionein-like proteins.
KeywordsArsenic Bioremediation Bacteria Metallothioneins Heavy metals ars genes
The work in Authors’ Laboratory is funded by contracts of the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union and grants of the Spanish Ministery of Science and Innovation.
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