Glyphosate, a chelating agent-relevant for ecological risk assessment?

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2018 Feb;25(6):5298-5317. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-1080-1. Epub 2018 Jan 2.


Glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs), consisting of glyphosate and formulants, are the most frequently applied herbicides worldwide. The declared active ingredient glyphosate does not only inhibit the EPSPS but is also a chelating agent that binds macro- and micronutrients, essential for many plant processes and pathogen resistance. GBH treatment may thus impede uptake and availability of macro- and micronutrients in plants. The present study investigated whether this characteristic of glyphosate could contribute to adverse effects of GBH application in the environment and to human health. According to the results, it has not been fully elucidated whether the chelating activity of glyphosate contributes to the toxic effects on plants and potentially on plant-microorganism interactions, e.g., nitrogen fixation of leguminous plants. It is also still open whether the chelating property of glyphosate is involved in the toxic effects on organisms other than plants, described in many papers. By changing the availability of essential as well as toxic metals that are bound to soil particles, the herbicide might also impact soil life, although the occurrence of natural chelators with considerably higher chelating potentials makes an additional impact of glyphosate for most metals less likely. Further research should elucidate the role of glyphosate (and GBH) as a chelator, in particular, as this is a non-specific property potentially affecting many organisms and processes. In the process of reevaluation of glyphosate its chelating activity has hardly been discussed.

Keywords: Chelating agent; EPSPS; GM crops; Glyphosate; Mode of action; Nutrient availability; Risk assessment; Soil life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chelating Agents / analysis
  • Chelating Agents / chemistry*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / chemistry
  • Glyphosate
  • Herbicides / chemistry*
  • Herbicides / toxicity
  • Plants / drug effects
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Chelating Agents
  • Herbicides
  • Soil
  • Glycine