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What are ‘‘heavy metals’’ in Plant Sciences?

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Plants do not have the ability to sense physical properties of metals, e.g. specific weight. The term ‘‘heavy metal’’ was defined mainly by the specific weight of metals. The definition was often connected with the expectation that the substance should be toxic. This definition is not acceptable and also inconsistent in use as already stressed in literature. However, in Plant Sciences, the term is so widely used that it is hardly possible to eliminate it. We suggest instead defining the term in a more unequivocal way. This should be done on the basis of the periodic system of elements. Here, we suggest introducing the following three subgroups forming the group of heavy metals for use in Plant Sciences. 1st subgroup: all transition elements except La and Ac (Transition metals). 2nd subgroup: rare earth elements, subdivided in the series of lanthanides and the series of actinides including La and Ac themselves (Rare earth metals). 3rd subgroup: a heterogenous group p-elements including the metal Bi, the amphoterous oxides forming elements Al, Ga, In, Tl, Sn, Pb, Sb and Po, and the metalloids Ge, As and Te. We suggest using the term ‘‘lead-group’’ for this 3rd subgroup of heavy metals as in Toxicology and Environmental Sciences, Pb is the most prominent representative of this group.
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  • Institute of General Botany and Plant Physiology, University of Jena, Jena, Germany
  • Institute for General Botany and Plant Physiology, Friedrich-Schiller University, Dornburger Str. 159, 07743 Jena, Germany
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