Cyanide is a major environmental pollutant of the chemical and metallurgical industries. Although extremely toxic, cyanide can enzymatically be converted to the less toxic thiocyanate by rhodaneses (thiosulfate:cyanide sulfurtransferases, EC 220.127.116.11). We engineered a genetic system to express high levels of recombinant Pseudomonas aeruginosa rhodanese (r-RhdA) in Escherichia coli, and used this organism to test the role of r-RhdA in cyanide detoxification. Inducible expression of the rhdA gene under the control of the hybrid T7-lacO promoter yielded active r-RhdA over a 4-h period, though r-RhdA-expressing E. coli showed decreased viability starting from 1 h post-induction. At this time, Western blot analysis and enzymatic assay showed r-RhdA partition between the cytoplasm (95%) and the periplasm (5%). The accessibility of thiosulfate to r-RhdA was a limiting step for the sulfur transfer reaction in the cellular system, but cyanide conversion to thiocyanate could be increased upon permeabilization of the bacterial membrane. Specific r-RhdA activity was higher in the whole-cell assay than in the in vitro assay with pure enzyme (2154 vs. 816 micromol min-1 mg-1 r-RhdA, respectively), likely reflecting enzyme stability. The r-RhdA-dependent cyanide detoxification resulted in increased resistance of r-RhdA overexpressing E. coli to 5 mM cyanide. Bacterial survival was paralleled by release of thiocyanate into the medium. Our results indicate that cyanide detoxification by engineered E. coli cells is feasible under laboratory conditions, and suggest that microbial rhodaneses may contribute to cyanide transformation in natural environments.