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
JUL 23, 2021
Earth & The Environment
How Much for a Healthy Ecosystem? Value & Policy in Forest Ecosystems
JUL 23, 2021
How Much for a Healthy Ecosystem? Value & Policy in Forest Ecosystems
Whether you know it or not, healthy ecosystems are an essential part of your life and many of the services you use daily ...
AUG 30, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Is it Safe to Travel to Mars?
AUG 30, 2021
Is it Safe to Travel to Mars?
It should be safe for humans to travel to Mars, provided journeys don’t take more than four years. The correspondi ...
OCT 06, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
2021's Nobel Prize in Physics Recognizes Foundational Work in Climate Science
OCT 06, 2021
2021's Nobel Prize in Physics Recognizes Foundational Work in Climate Science
The 2021 lineup for one of the world’s most prestigious awards has been announced, and the medal for physics has b ...
NOV 04, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Future of Data Storage: Fluorescent Molecules
NOV 04, 2021
The Future of Data Storage: Fluorescent Molecules
There is a data storage problem. Not every piece of information can be stored in the cloud (aka: on the internet); some ...
NOV 10, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Turning Plastic Bags into Fuel
NOV 10, 2021
Turning Plastic Bags into Fuel
By now, we all know that plastic waste is a huge problem. More than 350,000,000 tons of plastic waste are generated annu ...
NOV 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Modeling the Separation of Liquids in Cells
NOV 16, 2021
Modeling the Separation of Liquids in Cells
Oil and water are both liquids, but they don't mix well, demonstrating a phenomenon known as liquid-liquid phase separat ...
Loading Comments...