Construction of Tetrahymena strains with highly active arsenic methyltransferase genes for arsenic detoxification in aquatic environments

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2024 Apr 15:275:116258. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2024.116258. Epub 2024 Mar 28.


Biomethylation is an effective means of arsenic detoxification by organisms living in aquatic environments. Ciliated protozoa (including Tetrahymena species) play an important role in the biochemical cycles of aquatic ecosystems and have a potential application in arsenic biotransformation. This study compared arsenic tolerance, accumulation, methylation, and efflux in 11 Tetrahymena species. Nineteen arsenite (As(III)) S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) methyltransferase (arsM) genes, of which 12 are new discoveries, were identified, and protein sequences were studied. We then constructed recombinant cell lines based on the Tetrahymena thermophila (T. thermophila) wild-type SB210 strain and expressed each of the 19 arsM genes under the control of the metal-responsive the MTT1 promoter. In the presence of Cd2+ and As(V), expression of the arsM genes in the recombinant cell lines was much higher than in the donor species. Evaluation of the recombinant cell line identified one with ultra-high arsenic methylation enzyme activity, significantly higher arsenic methylation capacity and much faster methylation rate than other reported arsenic methylated organisms, which methylated 89% of arsenic within 6.5 h. It also had an excellent capacity for the arsenic detoxification of lake water containing As(V), 56% of arsenic was methylated at 250 μg/L As(V) in 48 h. This study has made a significant contribution to our knowledge on arsenic metabolism in protozoa and demonstrates the great potential to use Tetrahymena species in the arsenic biotransformation of aquatic environments.

Keywords: Arsenate; Biomethylation; Biotransformation; Detoxification; Methyltransferase; Tetrahymena.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic* / metabolism
  • Biotransformation
  • Ecosystem
  • Methylation
  • Methyltransferases / genetics
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Tetrahymena thermophila* / genetics
  • Tetrahymena thermophila* / metabolism


  • Arsenic
  • Methyltransferases