A bacterial view of the periodic table: genes and proteins for toxic inorganic ions

  • Simon SilverEmail author
  • Le T. PhungEmail author
Environmental Biotechnology


Essentially all bacteria have genes for toxic metal ion resistances and these include those for Ag+, AsO 2 , AsO 4 3− , Cd2+, Co2+, CrO 4 2− , Cu2+, Hg2+, Ni2+, Pb2+, TeO 3 2− , Tl+ and Zn2+. The largest group of resistance systems functions by energy-dependent efflux of toxic ions. Fewer involve enzymatic transformations (oxidation, reduction, methylation, and demethylation) or metal-binding proteins (for example, metallothionein SmtA, chaperone CopZ and periplasmic silver binding protein SilE). Some of the efflux resistance systems are ATPases and others are chemiosmotic ion/proton exchangers. For example, Cd2+-efflux pumps of bacteria are either inner membrane P-type ATPases or three polypeptide RND chemiosmotic complexes consisting of an inner membrane pump, a periplasmic-bridging protein and an outer membrane channel. In addition to the best studied three-polypeptide chemiosmotic system, Czc (Cd2+, Zn2+, and Co2), others are known that efflux Ag+, Cu+, Ni2+, and Zn2+. Resistance to inorganic mercury, Hg2+ (and to organomercurials, such as CH3Hg+ and phenylmercury) involve a series of metal-binding and membrane transport proteins as well as the enzymes mercuric reductase and organomercurial lyase, which overall convert more toxic to less toxic forms. Arsenic resistance and metabolizing systems occur in three patterns, the widely-found ars operon that is present in most bacterial genomes and many plasmids, the more recently recognized arr genes for the periplasmic arsenate reductase that functions in anaerobic respiration as a terminal electron acceptor, and the aso genes for the periplasmic arsenite oxidase that functions as an initial electron donor in aerobic resistance to arsenite.


Toxic metal resistances Arsenic Mercury Cadmium Bacterial plasmids 


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© Society for Industrial Microbiology 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA

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