Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 22, pp 12651–12661 | Cite as

Scanning electron microscopic investigations of root structural modifications arising from growth in crude oil-contaminated sand

Research Article


The choice of plant for phytoremediation success requires knowledge of how plants respond to contaminant exposure, especially their roots which are instrumental in supporting rhizosphere activity. In this study, we investigated the responses of plants with different architectures represented by beetroot (Beta vulgaris), a eudicot with a central taproot and many narrower lateral roots, and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), a monocot possessing a mass of threadlike fibrous roots to grow in crude oil-treated sand. In this paper, scanning electron microscopy was used to investigate modifications to plant root structure caused by growth in crude oil-contaminated sand. Root structural disorders were evident and included enhanced thickening in the endodermis, increased width of the root cortical zone and smaller diameter of xylem vessels. Inhibition in the rate of root elongation correlated with the increase in cell wall thickening and was dramatically pronounced in beetroot compared to the roots of treated fescue. The latter possessed significantly fewer (p < 0.001) and significantly shorter (p < 0.001) root hairs compared to control plants. Possibly, root hairs that absorb the hydrophobic contaminants may prevent contaminant absorption into the main root and concomitant axile root thickening by being sloughed off from roots. Tall fescue exhibited greater root morphological adaptability to growth in crude oil-treated sand than beetroot and, thus, a potential for long-term phytoremediation.


Beetroot Crude oil contamination Root growth Root structural modifications Scanning electron microscopy Stress Tall fescue 



The authors thank Dr. Rees, Dr. Chapman and Dr. Robello for their insightful suggestions on this experimental study which are greatly appreciated.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anuluxshy Balasubramaniyam
    • 1
  • Patricia J. Harvey
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ScienceUniversity of Greenwich at MedwayChatham MaritimeUK

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