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Yanbang Li, Kees Spelt, Mattijs Bliek, Francesca Quattrocchio, Ronald Koes and Henk Schat (Plant Development and Epi-Genetics ) and Qianqian Zhang (Plant Cell Biology) published a paper in New Phytologist addressing the genetic alterations by which plants species adapt to polluted soils.

Petunia seedlings germinated on agar plates containing high concentration of Cu
Petunia seedlings germinated on agar plates containing high concentration of Cu. The growth, in particular of the roots, gives a measure of the tolerance of the plant to Cu pollution. Wild type seedlings (WT) grow better than the mutant for HMA5 (hma5), but much less than transgenic plants that express the HMA5i or HMA5II from Silene. Plants that co-express both HMA5I and HMA5II from Silene grow even better.

A metallophyte is a plant that can resist the high concentration of heavy metals, found for instance around (old) mining sites, or sites that are naturally enriched for (heavy) metals. Silene vulgaris is a ‘champion’ metallophyte, withstanding high concentrations of toxic metals, like zinc, cadmium and copper.  It is, consequently, a prominent species on old mining sites and other soils with high metal concentrations.

Transporters confer copper tolerance

A study including S. vulgaris and other plant species uncovered two transporters (HMA5I and HMA5II), one on the vacuole and the other on the ER could be at the basis of copper tolerance in plants. These transporters also provide a mechanism for fast adaptation to copper exposure. Reallocation of transporters from endo-membranes to the basal portion of the plasma membrane is surprisingly conserved between mammalian and plant transporters. Transporters involved in copper deficiency (Menke’s disease) and overload (Wilson’s disease) in humans show that this mechanism of action is widely spread, suggesting it to be very ancient.

Publication details

Li, Y., Iqbal, M., Zhang, Q., Spelt, C., Bliek, M., Hakvoort, H. W. J., Quattrocchio, F. M., Koes, R. and Schat, H. (2017), Two Silene vulgaris copper transporters residing in different cellular compartments confer copper hypertolerance by distinct mechanisms when expressed in Arabidopsis thaliana. New Phytol. doi:10.1111/nph.14647