Dualities in plant tolerance to pollutants and their uptake and translocation to the upper plant parts

Jos A.C. Verkleij, Avi Golan-Goldhirsh, Danuta Maria Antosiewisz, Jean Paul Schwitzguébel, Peter Schröder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


There is a duality in plant tolerance to pollutants and its response to the pollutants' stress. On the one hand some plants, (hyper)tolerant to heavy metals, are able to hyperaccumulate these metals in shoots, which could be beneficial for phytoremediation purposes to clean-up soil and water. On the other hand tolerant food crops, exposed to heavy metals in their growth medium, may be dangerous as carriers of toxic metals in the food chain leading to food toxicity. There is an additional duality in plant tolerance to heavy metals and that is in food crops that are tolerant and/or hyperaccumulators, which could be used on one hand for phytoremediation, under controlled conditions and on the other hand for food fortification with essential metals. Similarly, plants are also exposed to a large number of xenobiotic organic pollutants. Because they generally cannot avoid these compounds, plants take up, translocate, metabolize and detoxify many of them. There is a large variability in tolerance (defence) mechanisms against organic pollutants among plant species. This includes production of reductants but also scavenger molecules like ascorbate and glutathione and expression of the P-450 defence system, and superfamilies of the enzymes glutathione- and glucosyl-transferases. Again, with view to organic pollutants, plant detoxification mechanisms might well protect the plant itself, but produce compounds with some deleterious potential for other organisms. In this review we discuss these dualities on the basis of examples of agricultural and 'wild' species exposed to metal contaminants (mainly Cd) and organic pollutants. Differences in uptake and translocation of various pollutants and their consequences will be considered. We will separately outline the effects of the organic and non-organic pollutants on the internal metabolism and the detoxification mechanisms and try to indicate the differences between both types of pollutants. Finally the consequences and solutions of these dualities in plant tolerance to pollutants will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-22
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • Detoxification mechanisms
  • Heavy metals
  • Organic xenobiotics
  • Plants
  • Transport
  • Uptake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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