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A mutant Arabidopsis thaliana lacking phytochelatin synthase is very sensitive to cadmium, but it grows just as well as the wild-type plant at normal concentrations of zinc and copper, two essential metal ions, indicating that phytochelatin is only involved in resistance to metal poisoning.
Because phytochelatin synthase uses glutathione with a blocked thiol group in the synthesis of phytochelatin, the presence of heavy metal ions that bind to glutathione causes the enzyme to work faster. Therefore, the amount of phytochelatin increases when the cell needs more phytochelatin to survive in an environment with high concentrations of metal ions.
Phytochelatin seems to be transported into the vacuole of plants, so that the metal ions it carries are stored safely away from the proteins of the cytosol.
There are groups of other peptides with a similar structure to phytochelatin, but where the last amino acid is not glycine:
Phytochelatin was first discovered in 1981 in fission yeast, and was named cadystin. It was then found in higher plants in 1985 and was named phytochelatin. In 1989 the biosynthetic enzyme, phytochelatin synthase, was discovered.
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^Olena K. Vatamaniuk; Elizabeth A. Bucher; James T. Ward; Philip A. Rea (2001). "A new pathway for heavy metal detoxification in animals: phytochelatin synthase is required for cadmium tolerance in Caenorhabditis elegans". J. Biol. Chem.276 (24): 20817-20. doi:10.1074/jbc.C100152200. PMID11313333.
^Murasugi, Akira; Wada, Chiaki; Hayashi, Yukimasa (1981). "Purification and Unique Properties in UV and CD Spectra of Cd-Binding Peptide 1 from Scizosaccharomyces pombe"". Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 103 (3): 1021-1028. doi:10.1016/0006-291X(81)90911-6. PMID7332570.
^Kondo, Naoto; Imai, Kunio; Isobe, Minoru; Goto, Toshio; Murasugi, Akira; Wada-Nakagawa, Chiaki; Hayashi, Yukimasa (1984). "Cadystin A and B, Major Unit Peptides Comprising Cadmium Binding Peptides Induced in a Fission Yeast----Separation, Revision of Structures and Synthesis". Tetrahedron Lett. 25 (35): 3869-3872. doi:10.1016/S0040-4039(01)91190-6.