The high affinity K+ transporter AtHAK5 plays a physiological role in planta at very low K+ concentrations and provides a caesium uptake pathway in Arabidopsis.
Caesium (Cs) is an alkali metal with chemical properties similar to potassium (K). It has no known role in plant nutrition and it is not toxic to plants at the micromolar concentrations occurring naturally in soil solutions. However, two radioisotopes of Cs (134Cs and 137Cs) are of environmental concern due to their relatively long half-lives, emissions of β and γ radiation during decay, and rapid incorporation into biological systems. There is considerable interest in remediating sites contaminated by these isotopes using phytoextraction and, since the produce from radiocaesium-contaminated areas may enter the food chain, the introduction of `safe' crops that do not accumulate Cs. This article reviews the molecular mechanisms of Cs uptake by plants, and provides a perspective on strategies to develop: (1) plants that extract Cs efficiently from soils (for the phytoremediation of land), or (2) `safe' crops that minimise the entry of radiocaesium directly into the human food chain.