Lead Toxicity in Cereals: Mechanistic Insight Into Toxicity, Mode of Action, and Management

Front Plant Sci. 2021 Feb 4;11:587785. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2020.587785. eCollection 2020.


Cereals are the major contributors to global food supply, accounting for more than half of the total human calorie requirements. Sustainable availability of quality cereal grains is an important step to address the high-priority issue of food security. High concentrations of heavy metals specifically lead (Pb) in the soil negatively affect biochemical and physiological processes regulating grain quality in cereals. The dietary intake of Pb more than desirable quantity via food chain is a major concern for humans, as it can predispose individuals to chronic health issues. In plant systems, high Pb concentrations can disrupt several key metabolic processes such as electron transport chain, cellular organelles integrity, membrane stability index, PSII connectivity, mineral metabolism, oxygen-evolving complex, and enzymatic activity. Plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) has been recommended as an inexpensive strategy for remediating Pb-contaminated soils. A diverse group of Ascomycetes fungi, i.e., dark septate endophytes is successfully used for this purpose. A symbiotic relationship between endophytes and host cereal induces Pb tolerance by immobilizing Pb ions. Molecular and cellular modifications in plants under Pb-stressed environments are explained by transcription factor families such as bZIP, ERF, and GARP as a regulator. The role of metal tolerance protein (MTP), natural resistance-associated macrophage protein (NRAMP), and heavy metal ATPase in decreasing Pb toxicity is well known. In the present review, we provided the contemporary synthesis of existing data regarding the effects of Pb toxicity on morpho-physiological and biochemical responses of major cereal crops. We also highlighted the mechanism/s of Pb uptake and translocation in plants, critically discussed the possible management strategies and way forward to overcome the menace of Pb toxicity in cereals.

Keywords: bioremediation; cereals; lead toxicity; management; mechanism; plant growth and development.

Publication types

  • Review