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PLoS One. 2013 May 8;8(5):e62941. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062941. Print 2013.

Enhanced accumulation of copper and lead in amaranth (Amaranthus paniculatus), Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) and sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

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Institute of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.



Soil contamination by copper (Cu) and lead (Pb) is a widespread environmental problem. For phytoextraction to be successful and viable in environmental remediation, strategies that can improve plant uptake must be identified. In the present study we investigated the use of nitrogen (N) fertilizer as an efficient way to enhance accumulation of Cu and Pb from contaminated industrial soils into amaranth, Indian mustard and sunflower.


Plants were grown in a greenhouse and fertilized with N fertilizer at rates of 0, 190 and 380 mg kg⁻¹ soil. Shoots, roots and total accumulation of Cu and Pb, transfer factor (TF), translocation index were assessed to evaluate the transport and translocation ability of tested plants. Addition of N fertilizer acidified the industrial soil and caused the pH to decrease to 5.5 from an initial pH of 6.9. Industrial soil amended with N fertilizer resulted in the highest accumulation of Pb and Cu (for Pb 10.1-15.5 mg kg⁻¹, for Cu 11.6-16.8 mg kg⁻¹) in the shoots, which was two to four folds higher relative to the concentration in roots in all the three plants used. Sunflower removed significantly higher Pb (50-54%) and Cu (34-38%) followed by amaranth and Indian mustard from industrial soils with the application of N fertilizer. The TF was <1 while the shoot and root concentration (SC/RC) ratios of Pb and Cu were between 1.3-4.3 and 1.8-3.8, respectively, regardless of plant species.


Sunflower is the best plant species to carry out phytoextraction of Pb and Cu. In contrast, Pb and Cu removal by Indian mustard and amaranth shows great potential as quick and short duration vegetable crops. The results suggest that the application of N fertilizer in contaminated industrial soil is an effective amendment for the phytoextraction of Pb and Cu from contaminated industrial soils.

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