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Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2003 Jun;14(3):277-82.

Phytoextraction of metals and metalloids from contaminated soils.

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  • 1Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ, UK.


The removal of inorganic contaminants by plants is termed phytoextraction. Recent studies have looked at the feasibility of phytoextraction, and demonstrate that both good biomass yields and metal hyperaccumulation are required to make the process efficient. Adding chelating agents to soil to increase the bioavailability of contaminants can sometimes induce hyperaccumulation in normal plants, but may produce undesirable environmental risks. Thus, it is necessary to investigate the mechanisms responsible for hyperaccumulation, using natural hyperaccumulators as model plant species. Recent advances have been made in understanding the mechanisms responsible for hyperaccumulation of Zn, Cd, Ni and As by plants. Attempts to engineer metal tolerance and accumulation have so far been limited to Hg, As and Cd, and although promising results have been obtained they may be some way from practical application. More fundamental understanding of the traits and mechanisms involved in hyperaccumulation are needed so that phytoextraction can be optimised.

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