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University of Chile

Faculty of Agricultural Sciences

Agronomic Production Department

Plant Physiology Seminar

Copper toxicity:
Any Copper would work the same?
December 09, 2015

Colihueque, J.
Márquez, J.

Introduction plastocyanin in the photosynthetic electron
transport chain (Katoh, 1977). However,
Copper (Cu) is an essential micronutrient
Cu content in the chloroplasts is usually
for plant growth, playing a key role in the
several times higher than that found in the
function of many proteins. Cu is involved
plastocyanin (Plesnicar and Bendall
in electron transport during
photosynthesis, lignin formation and cell
wall metabolism (Burkhead et al., 2009). Availability
Cu can act as a toxin to plants as well, The total metal concentration of a soil
causing nutrient loss and oxidative stress includes all fractions of a metal, from the
(Martins & Mourato, 2006; Reichman et readily available to the highly unavailable.
al., 2006). Under toxic conditions, Other soil factors, such as pH, organic
damaging hydroxyl radicals are formed matter, clay and redox conditions,
that attack the cell structure, and inhibit determine the proportion of total metal
photosynthesis (Fernandes & Henriques, which is in the soil solution.
1991; Yruela, 2009).
In relation to solution pH, it determines
+ 2+
Cu and Cu are the species of copper Copper solubility, speciation,
absorbed by the plants (Murphy, 1972), complexation and adsorption, but there is
however, Copper is taken up by higher little relation between soil pH and Copper
plants largely in the form of Cu2+ and concentration (Jeffery and Uren, 1983;
plants use two types of strategies to absorb McGrath et al., 1988; Sauve et al., 1997).
heavy metals, Strategy I and Strategy II.
The reason for this is the strong affinity of
The importance of these mechanisms in
Cu for organic matter (Norvell, 1991).
Cu mobilization and uptake in the soil
This means that the amount of organic
environment remains unclear. Although
matter dissolved in the soil it’s a more
no studies have confirmed the
determining factor on Copper solubility
mobilization and uptake mechanism of Cu,
and therefore availability than any other,
there appears to be a strong overlap
as Copper ions forms strong coordination
between Fe and Cu uptake, with Cu shown
complexes with organic matter
to competitively inhibit Fe uptake
(Stevenson, 1976; Stevenson, 1991).
(Schmidt et al., 1997; Michaud et al.,
2008; Yruela, 2009). In Chile
Previous work has found that Cu exists as Copper mining is by far the major
both Cu+ and Cu2+ in the vegetative tissue economic activity of Chile. Given the
of Larrea tridentata (creosote bush), underlying geochemistry of the Andean
despite the fact that Cu absorbed from the range one would expect high background
soil is Cu2+, indicating redox changes copper levels, at least in the regions where
within the plant or during uptake (Polette rich copper ores have been found. In fact,
et al., 2000) the surveys carried out so far have shown
rather high copper levels in soils, including
One of the Cu accumulation sites in higher
soils from the Antarctic peninsula with as
plants are the chloroplasts, also, this metal
much as 500 mg/Kg (Carrasco & Préndez,
is directly involved as a component of
1991). However, the long history of white spots or lesions (Lee et al., 1996a;
copper exploitation and beneficiation O'Sullivan et al., 1997). With increasing
associated to certain areas, makes it exposure, leaf tips and margins can
difficult to assess the true background become necrotic (Taylor and Foy, 1985;
levels of those areas. Yau et al., 1991). In acute Cu toxicity,
leaves may become wilted before
The optical mineralogical analysis of the
eventually becoming necrotic (Yau et al.,
study soils in the IV Region of Coquimbo
1991). Copper toxicity can be associated
revealed the presence of a number of
with a purpling of foliage (Choi et al.,
copper minerals: chalcopyrite (CuFeS2),
1996) but this is not apparent in all species
chalcosine (Cu2S), covellite (CuS),
(O'Sullivan et al., 1997).
enargite (Cu3AsS4) which in dissociation
releases the free ions Cu2+, Cu+, Cu2+, Cu+ The principal problem of Copper toxicity
respectively; as well as slag and carbon in plants it’s that it has a significant effect
particles. on root growth and form, often before any
effect on above-ground growth (Minnich
et al., 1987). Patterson (1983) found that
For many crops, ‘total’ soil copper the germination of six tree species was less
concentration (perchloric acid extractable) sensitive to Cu than subsequent root
above 100 mg/kg have been regarded as elongation. In dicot seedlings, toxic
high (Landon, 1991), while concentrations amounts of Cu result in radicles which are
of DTPA-extractable copper above 20 short, blunt tipped, of dark brown/black
mg/kg are potentially toxic in acid soils colouration (necrotic) and have a
(CFL, 1983). For citrus, soils containing disposition to fungal attack (Patterson and
more than 112 kg/ha total copper in the top Olson, 1983).
15 cm, using Spencer’s test (Spencer,
Any copper would work the same?
1954), are considered at risk, particularly
if the soil pH is below 6.5 (Koo et al., According to the consulted literature, It
1984). hasn’t been found any fundamental
difference, in terms of role, between the
The most widespread visual evidence of
different speciations of copper in the
metal toxicity is a reduction in plant
vegetal tissue, which means that its
growth as metal toxicity increases.
toxicity doesn’t depend on the oxidation
Toxic levels of Copper rarely occur state that they are found, either Cu+ or
naturally in soils. However, copper may Cu2+. However, in terms of application of
accumulate due to application of organic agriculture coppers, in which there’s a
amendments or mine slag, though is more relation between concepts such as
commonly through persistent use of solubility and ionisation potential of every
copper-containing fungicides or fertilisers. salt with copper association, there is a
difference as when there is an application
Interveinal foliar chlorosis is a common of a product with sulfurized product it
initial symptom of Cu toxicity (Taylor and would mean that this product has a rather
Foy, 1985; Zhu and Alva, 1993). The high solubility and high ionization
chlorosis often takes the form of cream or potential, contrary to the application of a
copper oxide which releases the copper as Copper speciation and isotopic
free ion faster, however, due to this the fractionation in plants: uptake and
quantity of product to applicate must be translocation mechanisms. New
more. In other words, the first copper Phytologist. Soil Sciences, University of
compound mencioned would produce a Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia. New
higher availability of Cu2+ to the plant Phytologist Vol. 199 page 367-378.
compared to the copper oxide salts,
P. Rodríguez, R. Badilla-Ohlbaum, A.
causing copper phytotoxicity faster.
Birkefield, E. Bustamante, A. Céspedes,
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