Background: Cadmium (Cd) is a major heavy metal pollutant which is highly toxic to plants and animals. Vast agricultural areas worldwide are contaminated with Cd. Plants take up Cd and through the food chain it reaches humans and causes toxicity. It is ideal to develop plants tolerant to Cd, without enhanced accumulation in the edible parts for human consumption. Glutathione transferases (GST) are a family of multifunctional enzymes known to have important roles in combating oxidative stresses induced by various heavy metals including Cd. Some GSTs are also known to function as glutathione peroxidases. Overexpression/heterologous expression of GSTs is expected to result in plants tolerant to heavy metals such as Cd.
Results: Here, we report cloning of a glutathione transferase gene from Trichoderma virens, a biocontrol fungus and introducing it into Nicotiana tabacum plants by Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer. Transgenic nature of the plants was confirmed by Southern blot hybridization and expression by reverse transcription PCR. Transgene (TvGST) showed single gene Mendelian inheritance. When transgenic plants expressing TvGST gene were exposed to different concentrations of Cd, they were found to be more tolerant compared to wild type plants, with transgenic plants showing lower levels of lipid peroxidation. Levels of different antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione transferase, superoxide dismutase, ascorbate peroxidase, guiacol peroxidase and catalase showed enhanced levels in transgenic plants expressing TvGST compared to control plants, when exposed to Cd. Cadmium accumulation in the plant biomass in transgenic plants were similar or lower than wild-type plants.
Conclusion: The results of the present study suggest that transgenic tobacco plants expressing a Trichoderma virens GST are more tolerant to Cd, without enhancing its accumulation in the plant biomass. It should be possible to extend the present results to crop plants for developing Cd tolerance and in limiting Cd availability in the food chain.