Date: 15 Jul 2010

Heavy Metal Toxicity in Plants

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Although many metal elements are essential for the growth of plants in low concentrations, their excessive amounts in soil above threshold values can result in toxicity. This detrimental effect varies with the nature of an element as well as plant species. Heavy metal toxicity in plants depends on the bioavailability of these elements in soil solution, which is a function of pH, organic matter and cation exchange capacity of the soil. Nonessential metals/metalloids such as Hg, Cd, Cr, Pb, As, and Sb are toxic both in their chemically combined or elemental forms, and plants responses to these elements vary across a broad spectrum from tolerance to toxicity. For example, the bioaccumulation of heavy metals in excessive concentrations may replace essential metals in pigments or enzymes disrupting their function and causing oxidative stress. Heavy metal toxicity hinders the growth process of the underground and aboveground plant parts and the activity of the photosynthetic apparatus, which is often correlated with progress in senescence. To avoid the toxicity, plants have developed specific mechanisms by which toxic elements are excluded, retained at root level, or transformed into physiologically tolerant forms. In this chapter, we have discussed the toxic effects of heavy metals on plant growth and their detoxification mechanisms that enable them to tolerate high levels of metals in the soil environment.