Comparative study on the bioaccumulation of lead, cadmium and nickel and their toxic effects on the growth and enzyme defence strategies of a heavy metal accumulator, Hydrilla verticillata (L.f.) Royle


The current hydroponic experiment investigated differences in the uptake, physiological response and defence mechanisms of Hydrilla verticillata (L.f.) Royle in response to three representative toxic heavy metals. The results revealed the following: as an excellent heavy metal accumulator, H. verticillata showed an accumulation pattern of Ni > Cd > Pb within experimental scope. Fourteen days (Ni and Cd) and 21 days (Pb) were the time thresholds under the same heavy metal concentration toxicity, while 33.06 μM (Ni) and 40 μM (Cd and Pb) were the concentration thresholds under the same 21-day duration treatment, to accumulate the most amount of metals. Hence, Pb might be accumulated more if it expands the experimental duration and concentration, for it continuously increases throughout the experimental period. Reasons for these uptake differences are that plant physiological response, tolerance and resistance vary under different heavy metal stress. First, the biomass and protein content of H. verticillata were both the highest under Pb stress, indicating the plant largest tolerance to Pb stress. Second, the tolerance thresholds of three antioxidant enzymes (SOD, CAT and POD) were the highest under Pb stress. Third, the three antioxidant enzymes and two other related resistance-causing enzymes (PPO and PAL) revealed that plant resistance was strongest at low Cd concentrations (0–20 μM) and at high Pb stress levels (40 μM). Furthermore, CAT is the most important antioxidant enzyme to combat three metal stresses (average relevance: CAT(0.89) > POD(0.48) > SOD(0.42)), while PAL is more important than PPO (average relevance: PAL (0.77) > PPO(0.72)). In conclusion, Pb-polluted water is best treated with H. verticillata because of the latter’s high uptake potential and strong defence capacity. These results provide an accurate, efficient and economical reference for phytoremediation.

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•As an excellent heavy metal accumulator, H. verticillata shows an accumulation pattern of Ni > Cd > Pb during experimental period.

•Cd and Ni inhibited plant growth, while Pb stress at low concentrations (5 μM) promoted it.

•The plant tolerance threshold was highest under Pb stress, and plant resistance under Cd and Pb stress was stronger than that under Ni toxicity.

•CAT and PAL are key enzymes that combat the three metal stresses in the antioxidant enzyme system and the resistance-causing enzyme system, respectively.

•The results suggest that Pb-polluted water is optimal treated with H. verticillata.

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Zhang, H., Zhang, L., Li, J. et al. Comparative study on the bioaccumulation of lead, cadmium and nickel and their toxic effects on the growth and enzyme defence strategies of a heavy metal accumulator, Hydrilla verticillata (L.f.) Royle. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020).

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  • H. verticillata
  • Phytoremediation
  • Heavy metals
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Tolerance
  • Resistance