Organotin compounds and their interactions with microoganisms

Jane S. White, John M. Tobin*, Joseph J. Cooney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Organotin compounds are ubiquitous in the environment. The general order of toxicity to microorganisms increases with the number and chain length of organic groups bonded to the tin atom. Tetraorganotins and inorganic tin have little toxicity. Because of their lipophilicity, organotins are regarded as membrane active. There is evidence that the site of action of organotins may be both at the cytoplasmic membrane and intracellular level. Consequently, it is not known whether cell surface adsorption or accumulation within the cell, or both is a prerequisite for toxicity. Biosorption studies on a fungus, cyanobacteria, and microalgae indicates that cell surface binding alone occurred in these organisms, while studies on the effects of TBT (tributyltin) on certain microbial enzymes indicated that in some bacteria TBT can interact with cytosolic enzymes. Microorganism - organotin interactions are influenced by environmental conditions. In aquatic systems, both pH and salinity can determine organotin speciation and therefore reactivity. These environmental factors may also alter selectivity for resistant microorganisms in polluted systems. Tin-resistant microorganisms have been identified, and resistance can be either plasmid or chromosomally mediated. In one TBT-resistant organism, an Altermonas sp., an efflux system was suggested as the resistance mechanism. Biotransformation of organotin compounds by debutylation or methylation has been observed. These reactions may influence the toxicity, mobility, and environmental fate of organotin compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-554
Number of pages14
JournalCanadian Journal of Microbiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999


  • Biosorption
  • Biotransformation
  • Inorganic tin
  • Microorganisms
  • Organotin resistance
  • Organotins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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