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Quantum chemical calculation studies toward microscopic understanding of retention mechanism of Cs radioisotopes and other alkali metals in lichens

Suno, Hiroya ; Machida, Masahiko ; Dohi, Terumi  ; Omura, Yoshihito*

We evaluate stability of caesium (Cs) and other alkali-metal cation complexes of lichen metabolites in both gas and aqueous phases to discuss why lichens can retain radioactive Cs in the thalli over several years. We focus on oxalic acid, (+)-usnic acid, atranorin, lecanoric acid, and protocetraric acid, which are common metabolite substances in various lichens including, e.g., $textit{Flavoparmelia caperata}$ and $textit{Parmotrema tinctorum}$ retaining Cs in Fukushima, Japan. By performing quantum chemical calculations, their gas-phase complexation energies and aqueous-solution complexation free energies with alkali-metal cations are computed for their neutral and deprotonated cases. Consequently, all the molecules are found to energetically favor cation complexations and the preference order is Li$$^+>$$Na$$^+>$$K$$^+>$$Rb$$^+>$$Cs$$^+$$ for all conditions, indicating no specific Cs selectivity but strong binding with all alkali cations. Comparing complexation stabilities among these metabolites, lecanoric and protocetraric acids seen in medullary layer are found to keep higher affinity in their neutral case, while (+)-usnic acid and atranorin in upper cortex exhibit rather strong affinity only in deprotonated cases through forming stable six atoms' ring containing alkali cation chelated by two oxygens. These results suggest that the medullary layer can catch all alkali cations in a wide pH range around the physiological one, while the upper cortex can effectively block penetration of metal ions when the metal stress grows. Such insights highlight a physiological role of metabolites like blocking of metal-cation migrations into intracellular tissues, and explain long-term retention of alkali cations including Cs in lichens containing enough such metabolites to bind them.

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