Activation of the heat shock response in plants by chlorophenols: Transgenic Physcomitrella patens as a sensitive biosensor for organic pollutants

Younousse Saidi, Marta Domini, Fleur Choy, Jean Pierre Zryd, Jean Paul Schwitzguebel, Pierre Goloubinoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to detect early molecular responses to various chemicals is central to the understanding of biological impact of pollutants in a context of varying environmental cues. To monitor stress responses in a model plant, we used transgenic moss Physcomitrella patens expressing the β-glucuronidase reporter (GUS) under the control of the stress-inducible promoter hsp17.3B. Following exposure to pollutants from the dye and paper industry, GUS activity was measured by monitoring a fluorescent product. Chlorophenols, heavy metals and sulphonated anthraquinones were found to specifically activate the hsp17.3B promoter (within hours) in correlation with long-term toxicity effects (within days). At mildly elevated physiological temperatures, the chemical activation of this promoter was strongly amplified, which considerably increased the sensitivity of the bioassay. Together with the activation of hsp17.3B promoter, chlorophenols induced endogenous chaperones that transiently protected a recombinant thermolabile luciferase (LUC) from severe heat denaturation. This sensitive bioassay provides an early warning molecular sensor to industrial pollutants under varying environments, in anticipation to long-term toxic effects in plants. Because of the strong cross-talk between abiotic and chemical stresses that we find, this P. patens line is more likely to serve as a direct toxicity bioassay for pollutants combined with environmental cues, than as an indicator of absolute toxicity thresholds for various pollutants. It is also a powerful tool to study the role of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in plants exposed to combined chemical and environmental stresses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-763
Number of pages11
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioassay
  • Chaperones
  • Luciferase
  • Moss
  • Sulphonated anthraquinone
  • hsp promoter
  • β-glucuronidase


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