Arsenic Toxicity and Tolerance Mechanisms in Crop Plants

Authored by: Pallavi Sharma , Ambuj Bhushan Jha , Rama Shanker Dubey

Handbook of Plant and Crop Physiology

Print publication date:  March  2014
Online publication date:  March  2014

Print ISBN: 9781466553286
eBook ISBN: 9781466553293
Adobe ISBN:


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Arsenic (As) is a ubiquitous element present in the environment. Although metalloid, it is often grouped among the toxic metals. It is the 20th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, with an average concentration ranging from 1.5 to 5 mg/kg (Cullen and Reimer, 1989). In noncontaminated soils, arsenic concentrations typically range from 0.2 to 40 mg/kg (World Health Organization, 1981), whereas in contaminated soils, arsenic concentrations as high as 100–2500 mg/kg have been reported (World Health Organization, 1981; Diaz-Barriga et al., 1993; Vaughan, 1993). Arsenic can enter soil through both natural processes such as weathering and erosion of arsenic-bearing rocks (Alloway, 1990; Yan-Chu, 1994) and anthropological activities such as mining, smelting of ores, coal combustion, release of arsenic-laden liquid and solid wastes from industrial plants, irrigation with arsenic-contaminated water, and use of arsenic-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers (reviewed by Smith et al., 1998; Mahimairaja et al., 2005). Arsenic is a significant contaminant of soils and groundwater in many regions of the world including Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Mexico, China, Hungary, India, and Vietnam (Mahimairaja et al., 2005 and references therein), and the situation is worst in the densely populated floodplains and river deltas of South and Southeast Asia (Nordstrom, 2002; Brammer and Ravenscroft, 2009). Arsenic leads to stimulation of plant growth at low concentrations (Woolson et al., 1971; Carbonell-Barrachina et al., 1997; Miteva, 2002; Garg and Singla, 2011); however, at high concentrations, it not only exerts toxic effects on plants and animals but may pose severe health complications for humans and animals.

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