Heavy metal tolerance and accumulation of Cd, Cr and Ni by Cannabis sativa L.
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Experiments in semi-natural conditions were undertaken to assess hemp metal tolerance and its ability to accumulate cadmium, nickel and chromium. Cannabis sativa was grown in two soils, S1 and S2, containing 27, 74, 126 and 82, 115, 139 μg g−1 of Cd, Ni and Cr, respectively. After two months from germination and at ripeness, no significant alteration in plant growth or morphology was detected. On the contrary, a high hemp reactivity to heavy metal stress with an increase in phytochelatin and DNA content was observed during development, suggesting the Cannabis sativa ability to avoid cell damage by activating different molecular mechanisms. Metals were preferentially accumulated in the roots and only partially translocated to the above-ground tissues. The mean shoot Cd content was 14 and 66 μg g−1 for S1 and S2 soil, respectively. Although not negligible concentrations they were about 100 times lower than those calculated for the hyperaccumulator Thlaspi caerulescens. Similarly Ni uptake was limited if compared with that of the Ni-hyperaccumulator Alyssum murale. Chromium uptake was negligible. As expected on the base of the metal concentration detected in ripe plants, no statistically significant variation in soil metal content was detected after one crop of hemp. Nevertheless, a consistent amount (g) of Cd and Ni is expected to be extracted by 1 ha biomass of hemp (about 10 t) per year and along the time a slow restoration of deeper soil portions can be obtained by its wide root system (at least 0,5 m deep). In addition, the possibilities of growing hemp easily in different climates and using its biomass in non-food industries can make heavy metal contaminated soils productive. This means economical advantage along with a better quality of soil.
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