Melbourne: A new research has uncovered how the metal cadmium, which is accumulating in the food chain, causes toxicity in living cells.
The new research shows how cadmium disrupts the transport of the essential metals manganese and zinc into and out of cells.
"Cadmium is a very important industrial metal, but exposure to it results in accumulation in the food chain, leading to toxicity in animals and humans," said Christopher McDevitt from the University of Adelaide and project leader.
While the toxicity of cadmium has been known for a long time, how it causes toxicity and damages cells has not been understood.
The understanding of how cadmium causes toxicity at a molecular level is likely to help scientists develop new strategies for preventing cadmium poisoning.
A model bacterial system has been developed in which the chemistry of cadmium allows it to bypass the mechanisms that prevent other metals from freely entering cells.
"Once inside the cell, cadmium inserts itself into the cell`s metal sensing machinery causing it to malfunction and pump out the wrong metal ions while still bringing in more cadmium. This ultimately leads to the death of the cell, McDevitt said.
Cadmium from industrial waste can leach back into soil and water and is not degraded.
"Cadmium isn`t used in biological systems (with one rare exception) which means that cells haven`t evolved ways to deal with this metal when they encounter it," McDevitt said.
"Our findings here open the way for developing new therapies for preventing cadmium toxicity," he said.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.