Adaptive Engineering of Phytochelatin-based Heavy Metal Tolerance

Rebecca E Cahoon, W Kevin Lutke, Jeffrey C Cameron, Sixue Chen, Soon Goo Lee, Rebecca S Rivard, Philip A Rea, Joseph M Jez
Journal of Biological Chemistry 2015 July 10, 290 (28): 17321-30
Metabolic engineering approaches are increasingly employed for environmental applications. Because phytochelatins (PC) protect plants from heavy metal toxicity, strategies directed at manipulating the biosynthesis of these peptides hold promise for the remediation of soils and groundwaters contaminated with heavy metals. Directed evolution of Arabidopsis thaliana phytochelatin synthase (AtPCS1) yields mutants that confer levels of cadmium tolerance and accumulation greater than expression of the wild-type enzyme in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Arabidopsis, or Brassica juncea. Surprisingly, the AtPCS1 mutants that enhance cadmium tolerance and accumulation are catalytically less efficient than wild-type enzyme. Metabolite analyses indicate that transformation with AtPCS1, but not with the mutant variants, decreases the levels of the PC precursors, glutathione and γ-glutamylcysteine, upon exposure to cadmium. Selection of AtPCS1 variants with diminished catalytic activity alleviates depletion of these metabolites, which maintains redox homeostasis while supporting PC synthesis during cadmium exposure. These results emphasize the importance of metabolic context for pathway engineering and broaden the range of tools available for environmental remediation.

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