A cDNA library was constructed from macroalgae adapted to prolonged elevated environmental copper levels. To investigate the possible existence of a metallothionein (MT) gene, the library was screened with degenerate probes designed using plant MT cysteine-rich motifs. A gene was identified (1229 bp) with a putative open reading frame (204 bp) encoding a 67-amino-acid protein exhibiting several characteristic features of MT proteins, including 16 cysteine residues (24%) and only one aromatic residue. Although the protein sequence showed high identity with plant and invertebrate MTs, it contained a unique ‘linker ’ region (14 amino acid residues) between the two putative metal-binding domains which contained no cysteine residues. This extended linker is larger than the tripeptide found in archetypal vertebrate MTs, but does not conform either with the 40-amino-acid linkers commonly found in plant MT sequences. An S-peptide Fucus MT fusion protein expressed in Escherichia coli exhibited a relative molecular mass of ∼ 14 kDa. The recombinant fusion bound seven Cd ions, of which 50% were dissociated at pH 4.1. Under anaerobic conditions, the Cd ions were displaced by Cu(I), which associated with the protein at a ratio of 13:1. Laboratory exposure of F. vesiculosus to elevated copper resulted in induction of the MT gene. Thus this paper describes, for the first time, an MT gene identified from macroalgae which is induced by copper exposure and whose encoded protein product binds cadmium and copper.
- heavy metal
- marine macroalgae
- The Biochemical Society, London © 1999