Molecular Physiology and Environmental Toxicology

stress cassette

Figure 1: Regulatory intron cassette („stress cassette“) with repetitive recognition
sites for binding of stress-involved transcription factors in the Cadmium-Metallothionein
Gene of the Roman snail (Helix pomatia).
(according to Dallinger 2007; Egg et al. 2008).

Apart from incidental pollution events with acute impact at a small scale level, toxicological effects of pollutans at sometimes low concentrations and in combination with environmental stressors (e.g., hypoxia, osmotic stress, etc.) are of increasing concern in ecophysiology and environmental toxicology.

We are focusing on the role of metallothioneins (these are cysteine-rich, low-molecular mass metal-binding proteins) in metal detoxification and stress response in soil invertebrates and fish larvae. The metallothionein genes of these species carry in their promotor and intronic regions a number of regulatory elements acting as binding sites for transcription factors involved in stress response and tolerance. We aim at elucidating whether and in which way different stressors (e.g., heavy metals, osmotic stress, etc,) can interact in controlling and modulating the expression and physiological role of metallothioneins through activation of these stress-specific transcription factors and their binding to regulatory DNA recognition sites


Figure 2: Neighbour joining tree based on AFLP analysis showing population
splitting of codling moth (Cydia pomonella) in Central Europe, with many locally
adapted and pesticide-resistant populations (according to Thaler et al. 2008).

Another focus of our research deals with microevolutionary processes governing adaptation of species and populations to pollutants (e.g., pesticides) under the influence of ecological stressors and human-induced constraints (e.g., Global Warming). In the alpine region of central Europe, for example, the worldwide thriving pome fruit pest Cydia pomonella (codling moth) has successfully adapted to habitat gradients at a small-scale level by splitting into many locally adapted populations. These populations are not only well adapted to their specific habitat, but also resist successfully to any control measure by biological or chemical means. This human-aided adaptation capacity has made the codling moth one of the worldwide most serious pest organisms in fruit growing management

Members of this workgroup

Center for Molecular Biosciences Innsbruck
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