Phytoextraction of toxic metals: a review of biological mechanisms

J Environ Qual. Jan-Feb 2002;31(1):109-20.


Remediation of sites contaminated with toxic metals is particularly challenging. Unlike organic compounds, metals cannot be degraded, and the cleanup usually requires their removal. However, this energy-intensive approach can be prohibitively expensive. In addition, the metal removing process often employs stringent physicochemical agents which can dramatically inhibit soil fertility with subsequent negative impacts on the ecosystem. Phytoremediation has been proposed as a cost-effective, environmental-friendly alternative technology. A great deal of research indicates that plants have the genetic potential to remove many toxic metals from the soil. Despite this potential, phytoremediation is yet to become a commercially available technology. Progress in the field is hindered by a lack of understanding of complex interactions in the rhizosphere and plant-based mechanisms which allow metal translocation and accumulation in plants. In this paper, four research areas relevant to metal phytoextraction from contaminated soil are reviewed. The review concludes with an assessment of the current status of technology deployment and suggestions for future phytoremediation research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Biological Availability
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control
  • Metals, Heavy / pharmacokinetics*
  • Plant Roots / physiology
  • Plants*
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Soil Pollutants / pharmacokinetics*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil Pollutants