Microbial interactions with tributyltin compounds: Detoxification, accumulation, and environmental fate

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    While inorganic forms of tin are of relatively low toxicity towards microorganisms, the more lipid-soluble organotins can be highly toxic. Generally, trisubstituted (R3SnX) organotins are more toxic than di- (R2SnX2) and monosubstituted (RSnX3) compounds; the anion (X) apparently having little influence on toxicity. However, many microorganisms exhibit resistance to organotins, a phenomenon of relevance to the environmental cycling of organotins and also to novel biological methods of treatment. Organotin degradation can involve the sequential removal of organic moieties to yield less toxic derivatives, e.g. debutylation of tributyltin compounds to di- and monobutylins. Such degradation is known to take place in bacteria, algae and fungi, and this provides one route for detoxification. In addition, microorganisms are capable of accumulating tributyltin compounds, and this is another mechanism of removal from solution. The high lipid solubility of organotins ensures cell penetration and association with intracellular sites, while cell wall components also play an important role. Of the fungal wall components, melanin pigments are capable of TBT binding, and the addition of melanin to growing cultures can remove toxicity; melanised strains are also more sensitive than albino strains of the same species. To date, little attention has been paid to the biotechnological exploitation of these interactions for the degradation of tributyltin or its removal from solution. This paper describes some interactions of microorganisms (bacteria, cyanobacteria, microalgae, and fungi) with tributyltin compounds, with particular reference to toxicity, bioaccumulation and detoxification. Such processes should receive due consideration in any environmental management programme. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)119-127
    Number of pages9
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2000


    • Accumulation
    • Bi osorption
    • Detoxification
    • Microorganisms
    • Organotins
    • Toxicity
    • Tributyltin

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Environmental Engineering
    • Environmental Chemistry
    • Waste Management and Disposal
    • Pollution


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