Advances in Phytoremediation

Jerald L. Schnoor, University of Iowa


Phytoremediation is the use of plants to remedy contaminated soils, sediments, and/or groundwater. Sorption and uptake are governed by physicochemical properties of the compounds, and moderately hydrophobic chemicals (logarithm octanol--water coefficients = 1.0--3.5) are most likely to be bioavailable to rooted, vascular plants. Some hydrophilic compounds, such as methyl-tert-butylether and 1,4-dioxane, may also be taken up by plants via hydrogen bonding with transpiration water. Organic chemicals that pass through membranes and are translocated to stem and leaf tissues may be converted (e.g., oxidized by cytochrome P450s), conjugated by glutathione or amino acids, and compartmentalized in plant tissues as bound residue. The relationship between metabolism of organic xenobiotics and toxicity to plant tissues is not well understood. A series of chlorinated ethenes is more toxic to hybrid poplar trees (Populus deltoides x nigra, DN-34) than are the corresponding chlorinated ethanes. Toxicity correlates best with the number of chlorine atoms in each homologous series. Transgenic plants have been engineered to rapidly detoxify and transform such xenobiotic chemicals. These could be used in phytoremediation applications if issues of cost and public acceptability are overcome.