Extracellular trapping of soil contaminants by root border cells: New insights into plant defense

Martha C. Hawes*, Jean McLain, Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, Gilberto Curlango-Rivera, Yolanda Flores-Lara, Lindy A. Brigham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Soil and water pollution by metals and other toxic chemicals is difficult to measure and control, and, as such, presents an ongoing global threat to sustainable agriculture and human health. Efforts to remove contaminants by plant-mediated pathways, or "phytoremediation", though widely studied, have failed to yield consistent, predictable removal of biological and chemical contaminants. Emerging research has revealed that one major limitation to using plants to clean up the environment is that plants are programmed to protect themselves: Like white blood cells in animals, border cells released from plant root tips carry out an extracellular trapping process to neutralize threats and prevent injury to the host. Variability in border cell trapping has been found to be correlated with variation in sensitivity of roots to aluminum, and removal of border cell results in increased Al uptake into the root tip. Studies now have implicated border cells in responses of diverse plant roots to a range of heavy metals, including arsenic, copper, cadmium, lead, mercury, iron, and zinc. A better understanding of border cell extracellular traps and their role in preventing toxin uptake may facilitate efforts to use plants as a nondestructive approach to neutralize environmental threats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6010005
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the authors.


  • Extracellular DNA
  • Heavy metals
  • Neutrophil extracellular traps
  • Rhizofiltration
  • Root border cells


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