Toxics. 2022 May 6;10(5):237. doi: 10.3390/toxics10050237.
In the present climate emergency due to global warming, we are urged to move away from fossil fuels and pursue a speedy conversion to renewable energy systems. Consequently, copper (Cu) will remain in high demand because it is a highly efficient conductor used in clean energy systems to generate power from solar, hydro, thermal and wind energy across the world. Chile is the global leader in copper production, but this position has resulted in Chile having several hundred tailing deposits. We grew two Chilean native hardwood species, quillay (Quillaja saponaria Molina) and espino (Vachellia caven (Molina) Seigler & Ebinger, under three increasing Cu levels (0, 50, and 100 µM) for 6 months in a greenhouse setting. We measured growth, photosynthetic performance and elemental contents of leaves and roots to further evaluate their potential for phytoremediation. Growth of quillay was unaffected by Cu treatment but growth of espino was enhanced, as was its photosynthetic performance, indicating that espino may have an unusually high requirement for copper. Excess Cu was mostly restricted to the roots of both species, where X-ray fluorescence (XRF) mapping indicated some tendency for Cu to accumulate in tissues outside the periderm. Calcium oxalate crystals were prominently visible in XRF images of both species. Nickel (but not Cu) showed a concurrent distribution pattern with these crystals.