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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Aug-Sep;41(8-9):1665-77. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2009.03.005. Epub 2009 Mar 24.

The biochemistry of environmental heavy metal uptake by plants: implications for the food chain.

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Department of Chemistry, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968, United States.


Plants absorb a number of elements from soil, some of which have no known biological function and some are known to be toxic at low concentrations. As plants constitute the foundation of the food chain, some concerns have been raised about the possibility of toxic concentrations of certain elements being transported from plants to higher strata of the food chain. Special attention has been given to the uptake and biotransformation mechanisms occurring in plants and its role in bioaccumulation and impact on consumers, especially human beings. While this review draws particular attention to metal accumulation in edible plants, researched studies of certain wild plants and their consumers are included. Furthermore, this review focuses on plant uptake of the toxic elements arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead and their possible transfer to the food chain. These elements were selected because they are well-established as being toxic for living systems and their effects in humans have been widely documented. Arsenic is known to promote cancer of the bladder, lung, and skin and can be acquired, for example, through the consumption of As-contaminated rice. Cadmium can attack kidney, liver, bone, and it also affects the female reproduction system. Cadmium also can be found in rice. Chromium can produce cancer, and humans can be exposed through smoking and eating Cr-laden vegetables. Lead and mercury are well known neurotoxins that can be consumed via seafood, vegetables and rice.

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