Metallothioneins are present in a vast range of taxonomic groups, ranging from prokaryotes (such as the cyanobacteria Syneccococus spp....), protozoa (p. ex. the ciliate Tetrahymena genera...), plants (such as Pisum sativum, Triticum durum, Zea mays, Quercus suber...), yeast (such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Candida albicans,...), invertebrates (such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the insect Drosophila melanogaster, the mollusc Mytilus edulis, or the echinoderm Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) and vertebrates (such as the chicken, Gallus gallus, or the mammalian Homo sapiens or Mus musculus).
The MTs from this diverse taxonomic range represent a high-heterogeneity sequence (regarding molecular weight and number and distribution of Cys residues) and do not show general homology; in spite of this, homology is found inside some taxonomic groups (such as vertebrate MTs).
From their primary structure, MTs have been classified by different methods. The first one dates from 1987, when Fowler et al., established three classes of MTs: Class I, including the MTs which show homology with horse MT, Class II, including the rest of the MTs with no homology with horse MT, and Class III, which includes phytochelatins, Cys-rich enzymatically synthesised peptides. The second classification was performed by Binz and Kagi in 2001, and takes into account taxonomic parameters and the patterns of distribution of Cys residues along the MT sequence. It results in a classification of 15 families for proteinaceous MTs. Family 15 contains the plant MTs, which in 2002 have been further classified by Cobbet and Goldsbrough into 4 Types (1, 2, 3 and 4) depending on the distribution of their Cys residues and a Cys-devoid regions (called spacers) characteristic of plant MTs.