JUN 09, 2021 10:05 AM PDT

Just how toxic are we talking? Understanding lanthanides with the help of yeast

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details an exhaustive compilation of the potential toxicities to the human genome from rare-earth heavy metals called lanthanides. Because of their magnetic properties and ability to emit light, lanthanides are commonly used in organic light-emitting displays, medical MRIs and hybrid vehicles, and yet new observations put into question the health risks they could pose. To explore these risks, researchers from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley employed an unlikely test subject: baker’s yeast.

"Yeast is the smallest eukaryote -- but their thousands of genes represent a great approximation to the gene variants in humans," explained senior author Assistant Professor Rebecca Abergel, who leads the BioActinide Chemistry Group. "What's cool about this study is that it was done with a library of yeast genes, and we could screen the whole genome of the yeast and compare how a normal gene strain versus a gene-deletion strain was actually affected by lanthanide exposure."

This exploration with Saccharomyces cerevisiae and lanthanides lasted almost ten years as Abergel’s team worked within the Yeast Deletion Project to test over 4,000 genes against 13 of the 15 lanthanide metals with the goal of illuminating the relationships between genes and chemical exposures. Their analysis showed that lanthanides disrupt the cell-signaling pathways that control skeletal and neurological processes.  

Seven lanthanides. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

"This study could point us to understanding which lanthanide metals are more toxic than others, and whether someone is more genetically predisposed to lanthanide toxicity," Abergel said, referring to the disturbing finding that some MRI patients experience side effects such as long-term kidney damage linked to their exposure to the MRI contrast agent lanthanide gadolinium.

"This was a massive study showing all the potential pathways affected by lanthanide metal exposure -- but we're just scratching the surface of a huge dataset," she concluded.

Sources: PNAS, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JAN 31, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Contaminated soil could be a source of chemical wealth
JAN 31, 2021
Contaminated soil could be a source of chemical wealth
Research released in the journal Science describes a new approach that can be used to synthesize valuable industry chemi ...
MAR 24, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Can we promote the hydrogen economy without fossil fuels?
MAR 24, 2021
Can we promote the hydrogen economy without fossil fuels?
New research published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition reports a novel approach to producing hydrogen su ...
APR 29, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Can We Diagnose Disease Based on How "Sticky" Cells Are?
APR 29, 2021
Can We Diagnose Disease Based on How "Sticky" Cells Are?
How “sticky” cells are, or their viscosity, holds a wealth of information about their health and functionali ...
MAY 18, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
What's all the fuss about diamonds, anyway?
MAY 18, 2021
What's all the fuss about diamonds, anyway?
You might only think of rings and bling when you think of diamonds, but in fact, there are a whole lot more uses for dia ...
MAY 22, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
How to remove remove nanoplastics from the ocean using tunicates
MAY 22, 2021
How to remove remove nanoplastics from the ocean using tunicates
Research recently published in the journal Microplastics and Nanoplastics describes a proof-of-principle study of a new ...
MAY 27, 2021
Neuroscience
Research Less Likely to Be True is Cited More
MAY 27, 2021
Research Less Likely to Be True is Cited More
Researchers from the University of California San Diego have found that non-replicable data is cited 153 times more ofte ...
Loading Comments...