Decoding heavy metal stress signalling in plants: Towards improved food security and safety

Marshall Keyster, Lee Ann Niekerk, Gerhard Basson, Mogamat Carelse, Olalekan Bakare, Ndiko Ludidi, Ashwil Klein, Lukhanyo Mekuto, Arun Gokul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The mining of heavy metals from the environment leads to an increase in soil pollution, leading to the uptake of heavy metals into plant tissue. The build-up of toxic metals in plant cells often leads to cellular damage and senescence. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to produce plants with improved tolerance to heavy metals for food security, as well as to limit heavy metal uptake for improved food safety purposes. To achieve this goal, our understanding of the signaling mechanisms which regulate toxic heavy metal uptake and tolerance in plants requires extensive improvement. In this review, we summarize recent literature and data on heavy metal toxicity (oral reference doses) and the impact of the metals on food safety and food security. Furthermore, we discuss some of the key events (reception, transduction, and response) in the heavy metal signaling cascades in the cell wall, plasma membrane, and cytoplasm. Our future perspectives provide an outlook of the exciting advances that will shape the plant heavy metal signaling field in the near future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1781
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Cell wall signaling
  • Food safety
  • Food security
  • Glutathione
  • Heavy metals
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Reactive oxygen species signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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