Plant and rhizosphere processes involved in phytoremediation of metal-contaminated soils

Research paper by S.P. McGrath, F.J. Zhao, E. Lombi

Indexed on: 01 May '01Published on: 01 May '01Published in: Plant and soil


This paper reviews the recent advances in understanding of metal removal from contaminated soils, using either hyperaccumulator plants, or high biomass crop species after soil treatment with chelating compounds. Progress has been made at the physiology and molecular level regarding Zn and Ni uptake and translocation in some hyperaccumulators. It is also known that natural hyperaccumulators do not use rhizosphere acidification to enhance their metal uptake. Recently, it has been found that some natural hyperaccumulators proliferate their roots positively in patches of high metal availability. In contrast, non-accumulators actively avoid these areas, and this is one of the mechanisms by which hyperaccumulators absorb more metals when grown in the same soil. However, there are few studies on the exudation and persistence of natural chelating compounds by these plants. It is thought that rhizosphere microorganisms are not important for the hyperaccumulation of metals from soil. Applications of chelates have been shown to induce large accumulations of metals like Pb, U and Au in the shoots of non-hyperaccumulators, by increasing metal solubility and root to shoot translocation. The efficiency of metal uptake does vary with soil properties, and a full understanding of the relative importance of mass flow and diffusion in the presence and absence of artificial chelates is not available. To successfully manipulate and optimise future phytoextraction technologies, it is argued that a fully combined understanding of soil supply and plant uptake is needed.