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Characterisation of plants' resistance mechanisms against heavy metals

14th national competition for scientific and technical research

Resistance of plants to pollution

Senior Researcher : Luis Eduardo Hernández Rodríguez

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Research Centre or Institution : Facultad de Ciencias. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Abstract

One of the complications derived from industrial, agricultural or mining activities is soil contamination by toxic substances, which include elements such as cadmium, mercury or arsenic. Their accumulation poses a serious threat to natural ecosystems, rural areas and population centres, as decontamination is very difficult due to the high degree of persistence. On occasions drastic decontamination techniques have been used, such as in the case of the Aznalcóllar (Guadiamar, 1998) mud spills, where the affected soil was removed mechanically. Said treatment seriously altered the soil structure, negatively affecting its fertility, in addition to generating an enormous amount of waste. Economic alternatives that enable the regeneration of contaminated soils must be found, in addition to techniques that do not cause collateral damage and help improve its fertility. In this sense, decontamination strategies are being developed based on the natural capacity of plants to absorb toxic elements, which is known as phytoremediation. However, only a few species tolerate the accumulation of toxic elements in their tissues, so the vast majority become contaminated. For this reason, to optimise current phytoremediation techniques and apply them to specific areas in regions with different climates and types of vegetation, it is essential understand the metabolic mechanisms that enable plants to resist the accumulation of toxic elements.

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