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Volume 2013, Article ID 289236, 16 pages
Research Article

Molecular Characterization of Copper and Cadmium Resistance Determinants in the Biomining Thermoacidophilic Archaeon Sulfolobus metallicus

1Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Department of Biology and Millennium Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile
2Department of Chemical Engineering, North Catholic University, Antofagasta, Chile

Received 5 November 2012; Accepted 4 January 2013

Academic Editor: Elisabetta Bini

Copyright © 2013 Alvaro Orell et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Sulfolobus metallicus is a thermoacidophilic crenarchaeon used in high-temperature bioleaching processes that is able to grow under stressing conditions such as high concentrations of heavy metals. Nevertheless, the genetic and biochemical mechanisms responsible for heavy metal resistance in S. metallicus remain uncharacterized. Proteomic analysis of S. metallicus cells exposed to 100 mM Cu revealed that 18 out of 30 upregulated proteins are related to the production and conversion of energy, amino acids biosynthesis, and stress responses. Ten of these last proteins were also up-regulated in S. metallicus treated in the presence of 1 mM Cd suggesting that at least in part, a common general response to these two heavy metals. The S. metallicus genome contained two complete cop gene clusters, each encoding a metallochaperone (CopM), a Cu-exporting ATPase (CopA), and a transcriptional regulator (CopT). Transcriptional expression analysis revealed that copM and copA from each cop gene cluster were cotranscribed and their transcript levels increased when S. metallicus was grown either in the presence of Cu or using chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) as oxidizable substrate. This study shows for the first time the presence of a duplicated version of the cop gene cluster in Archaea and characterizes some of the Cu and Cd resistance determinants in a thermophilic archaeon employed for industrial biomining.