Certain plants are known to accumulate heavy metals, and can be used in remediation of polluted soil or water. Plant-associated bacteria, especially those that are metal tolerant, may enhance the total amount of metal accumulated by the plant, but this process is still unclear. In this study, we investigated metal enhancement vs. exclusion by plants, and the phytoprotective role plant-associated bacteria might provide to plants exposed to heavy metal. We isolated cadmium-tolerant bacteria from the roots of the aquatic plant Lemna minor grown in heavy metal-polluted waters, and tested these isolates for tolerance to cadmium. The efficiency of plants to accumulate heavy metal from their surrounding environment was then tested by comparing L. minor plants grown with added metal tolerant bacteria to plants grown axenically to determine, whether bacteria associated with these plants increase metal accumulation in the plant. Unexpectedly, cadmium tolerance was not seen in all bacterial isolates that had been exposed to cadmium. Axenic plants accumulated slightly more cadmium than plants inoculated with bacterial isolates. Certain isolates promoted root growth, but overall, addition of bacterial strains did not enhance plant cadmium uptake, and in some cases, inhibited cadmium accumulation by plants. This suggests that bacteria serve a phytoprotective role in their relationship with Lemna minor, preventing toxic cadmium from entering plants.
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