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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Combating heavy metals in wheat grains under drought - is alien or ancient germplasm a solution to secure food and health?

Lan, Yuzhou; Kuktaite, Ramune; Chawade, Aakash; Johansson, Eva


Alien and ancient wheat germplasms have been utilized to combat diseases and improve yield performance under climate change. However, the potential risk of excessive heavy metal uptake with these germplasms has been less studied. In order to ensure food security, this study aimed to evaluate the levels of cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg) in 30 wheat lines, including modern, old and wheat-rye introgression genotypes grown under three conditions i.e., control, early drought and late drought. The results of this study revealed a generally higher Cd grain accumulation in old and 1R genotypes than in the other genotype groups evaluated here, while old genotypes also showed an excess Pb grain concentration. The induced late drought resulted in an increased Cd uptake in wheat, leading to significantly elevated grain Cd concentration in modern, 1R, 1RS and 2R genotypes, while similar results were not obtained for the other heavy metals e.g. Pb or Hg. Specifically, an old genotype, 207, showed an extremely high Cd value across control and drought conditions. There was a greater genotypic variation in Pb concentration compared to Cd, while consistently high Hg concentrations were observed in several genotypes carrying 1R or 1RS. Some wheat-rye introgression genotypes, particularly those with the 3R chromosome, showed a low Cd accumulation across all treatments. The results from the present study pin-point the necessity of a rigorous assessment of heavy metal accumulation in wheat grain when utilizing ancient and alien genetic resources in breeding for disease resistance, and wheat resilience to environmental stress and climate change. Furthermore, the specific lines identified in this study with elevated heavy metal accumulation should be avoided in breeding programs. Additionally, mechanisms for the found differences in heavy metals accumulation among genotypes and treatments should be further revealed.


Wheat-rye introgression; Heavy metal concentration; Drought; Food security and toxicity

Published in

Journal of Agriculture and Food Research
2024, Volume: 16, article number: 101118
Publisher: ELSEVIER