Increased β-cyanoalanine nitrilase activity improves cyanide tolerance and assimilation in Arabidopsis.
O'Leary B., Preston GM., Sweetlove LJ.
Plants naturally produce cyanide (CN) which is maintained at low levels in their cells by a process of rapid assimilation. However, high concentrations of environmental CN associated with activities such as industrial pollution are toxic to plants. There is thus an interest in increasing the CN detoxification capacity of plants as a potential route to phytoremediation. Here, Arabidopsis seedlings overexpressing the Pseudomonas fluorescens β-cyanoalanine nitrilase pinA were compared with wild-type and a β-cyanoalanine nitrilase knockout line (ΔAtnit4) for growth in the presence of exogenous CN. After incubation with CN, +PfpinA seedlings had increased root length, increased fresh weight, and decreased leaf bleaching compared with wild-type, indicating increased CN tolerance. The increased tolerance was achieved without an increase in β-cyanoalanine synthase activity, the other enzyme in the cyanide assimilation pathway, suggesting that nitrilase activity is the limiting factor for cyanide detoxification. Labeling experiments with [¹³C]KCN demonstrated that the altered CN tolerance could be explained by differences in flux from CN to Asn caused by altered β-cyanoalanine nitrilase activity. Metabolite profiling after CN treatment provided new insight into downstream metabolism, revealing onward metabolism of Asn by the photorespiratory nitrogen cycle and accumulation of aromatic amino acids.