The present invention provides nucleic acid sequences encoding a metal ion resistance protein, which are expressible in plant cells. The metal resistance protein provides for the enzymatic reduction of metal ions including but not limited to divalent Cu, divalent mercury, trivalent gold, divalent cadmium, lead ions and monovalent silver ions. Transgenic plants which express these coding sequences exhibit increased resistance to metal ions in the environment as compared with plants which have not been so genetically modified. Transgenic plants with improved resistance to organometals including alkylmercury compounds, among others, are provided by the further inclusion of plant-expressible organometal lyase coding sequences, as specifically exemplified by the plant-expressible merB coding sequence. Furthermore, these transgenic plants which have been genetically modified to express the metal resistance coding sequences of the present invention can participate in the bioremediation of metal contamination via the enzymatic reduction of metal ions. Transgenic plants resistant to organometals can further mediate remediation of organic metal compounds, for example, alkylmetal compounds including but not limited to methyl mercury, methyl lead compounds, methyl cadmium and methyl arsenic compounds, in the environment by causing the freeing of mercuric or other metal ions and the reduction of the ionic mercury or other metal ions to the less toxic elemental mercury or other metals.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF FEDERAL RESEARCH SUPPORT
This invention was made in part with funding from the United States Department of Energy. Accordingly, the United States government may have certain rights in this invention.