Plants and their associated microbes can remediate cyanide via cyanide uptake, transport, degradation and assimilation in plants. Experiments using free cyanide have shown that many terrestrial and aquatic plants including willow, sorghum, cassava and water hyacinth can remove cyanide from the growing medium. Cyanide uptake in plants can be associated with a very complex physiological mechanism which includes transport and assimilation of cyanide within the plants for catering plant's nitrogen needs. Phytoremediation offers a cost-effective and environment-friendly alternative or complementary technology for conventional remediation methods. Although phytoremediation can work effectively, the underlying biological processes are still largely unknown in many cases. Some important processes that require further study are plant-microbe interactions, detailed cyanide transport, chelation and degradation mechanisms in plants. Collection of this information would be useful in developing cyanide detoxification efficiency and for developing transgenic plants that can thrive well in cyanide pollution zone.
Phytoremediation has advantages but also limitations. The plants that mediate the cleanup have to be in pollution zone and it should act on cyanide. Therefore, the soil properties, toxicity level, and climate should allow plant growth. Phytoremediation may also be slower than the more established remediation methods like excavation, incineration, or pump-and-treat systems. Flowthrough phytoremediation systems and plant degradation of pollutants work fairly fast (days or months), but soil cleanup via plant accumulation often takes years. Phytoremediation may also be limited by the bioavailability of the cyanide pollutants. Non-biological remediation technologies and bio/phytoremediation are not mutually exclusive. Cyanide distribution and concentration are also heterogeneous for many sites. In future, mining of the genomic sequences from A. thaliana, rice, sorghum and willow and availability of new genomic technologies will lead us to identify novel genes important in cyanide remediation, including regulatory networks (e.g., transcription factors) and tissue-specific transporters. The expression of these genes may then be manipulated in high biomass species for use in phytoremediation.
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