Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil and Water
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Ph.D.  Plant Physiology    Nottingham University, England, 1966
B.Sc.   Botany    Southampton University, England, 1961

Environmental plant biology, phytoremediation and botanical drug development
Environmental pollution is a major threat to our planet. Pollution of precious water supplies is particularly egregious. Electric utilities, oil refineries, and chemical plants produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year. In agriculture, toxic levels of various elements pollute the groundwater as a result of excessive fertilizer application (e.g., nitrates and phosphates), and through leaching of naturally occurring trace elements in the soil after irrigation (e.g., selenium). Pollution of both water and soil poses a significant hazard to human health. Finding suitable treatment technologies to clean up contaminated water and soil wastewater is not easy. The few technologies that are available are usually prohibitively expensive. Because the need for practical and cost-effective procedures for cleaning up contaminated water and soil is so great, researchers at the Terry lab have dedicated themselves to achieving this goal through phytoremediation, a cost-effective and environment-friendly approach for cleanup. Over the past 18 years, we have had demonstrable success in cleaning up contaminated wastewater and soil (see nature.berkeley.edu/terrylab).

In order to use plants to remediate B, first we have to elucidate the biochemical mechanism by which plants interact with B. Plants that are able to tolerate high concentrations of B do so using one of two main mechanisms. The first mechanism is to "exclude" B. Certain plants have developed methods to prevent B from entering the roots, or are able to pump the B out of the roots once it enters. This prevents the element from entering the plant tissue and negatively affecting plant health. The second method is to "sequester" B. Certain plants are able to complex B and sequester it in their tissues, thereby protecting the sensitive areas of the plant. When a plant has the ability to sequester the majority of B in the aboveground tissues, it is termed a "hyperaccumulator". In our laboratory, in collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Mehmet Babaoglu from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Selcuk, Turkey, we are studying both B-excluding and B-hyperaccumulator plants. Our study of these plants focuses on determining the upper limit of B tolerance, as well as the mechanisms these plants use to tolerate high concentrations of B in the soil.

Preliminary studies have demonstrated that some plant species are able to withstand extremely high B concentrations. While B did accumulate in the plant tissue during our preliminary experiment, it only accumulated to a concentration approximately twice that of the external B concentration. This indicates that this plant species is successfully preventing the uptake of high concentrations of B. Our next goals are to determine the upper limits of B tolerance and to elucidate, at the biochemical level, how the plant is able to protect itself so effectively from such high concentrations of B.

Other plant species growing in high B soils are able to accumulate B in their aboveground tissues at concentrations 25-30 times that of the external B concentration. Our next goal is to determine how the plant is able to tolerate such high concentrations of B in its aboveground tissue.

Bacteria exist that are able to live and thrive in high concentrations of boron. These are known as extremophiles, because they are able to live in conditions that would be toxic to the majority of living organisms. While some bacteria are simply able to tolerate high concentrations of boron, other types of bacteria actually require high concentrations of boron. In our laboratory, we are currently working to isolate bacteria from soil samples collected from high boron soils. Once these bacteria have been isolated, we can then work to understand the mechanisms they use to tolerate high concentrations of boron. We hope to transfer these abilities to fast-growing, high-biomass plants, and thereby utilize plants as a form of remediation.


The most recent focus of the Terry Lab is the study of medicinal plants. The long-term goal of this research is to rationalize the process of development and production of Chinese herbs for medicinal purposes. The Lab is currently working on two plants, Saussurea involucrata (snow lotus) and Artemisia annua. Snow lotus extract has been used for centuries in China as a treatment for many ailments, and we are particularly interested in its anti-inflammatory effect on rheumatoid arthritis. Snow lotus grows naturally only in a very specific and limited habitat (high in the Himalayan mountains). Its natural population is suffering from over-harvesting. As a consequence, we are seeking to develop methods for the large-scale production of snow lotus through tissue culture and hydroponics. Our second goal is to develop a standardized procedure for the production of extracts of consistently high quality.

Snow lotus extract has been used for centuries in China as a treatment for many ailments, and we are particularly interested in its anti-inflammatory effect on rheumatoid arthritis. Snow lotus is an herb that grows naturally only in very specific and limited habitats. The goals of our research are: 1) to develop methods to produce high quantities of snow lotus biomass in the laboratory through either tissue culture techniques or via hydroponics, and 2) to develop a standardized procedure for production of an extract of consistently high quality.

Artemisia produces the anti-malarial drug, artemisinin. Our laboratory is researching methods to increase the production of artemisinin in the plant through biotechnology and by manipulating environmental variables.

Recent Publications

I. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Kassis, E. E., N. Cathala, H. Rouached, P. Fourcroy, P. Berthomieu, N. Terry and J-C. Davidian, 2007. Characterization of a selenate-resistant Arabidopsis thaliana mutant: root growth as a potential target for selenate toxicity. Plant Physiology 143:1231-1241

Kubachka, K.M., Meija, J., LeDuc, D.L., Terry, N., and Caruso, J.A. 2007. Selenium volatiles as proxy to the metabolic pathways of selenium in genetically modified Brassica juncea. Environmental Science & Technology, 41(6):1863-1869

Bañuelos, G., LeDuc, D., Pilon-Smits, E.A.H., and Terry, N. 2007. Transgenic Indian mustard overexpressing selenocysteine lyase or selenocyteine methyltransferase exhibit enhanced potential for selenium phytoremediation under field conditions. Environmental Science & Technology, 41(2); 599-605.

Navaza, A.P., Montes-Bayon, M., LeDuc, D.L., Terry, N., and Sanz-Medel, A. 2006. Study of phytochelatins and other related thiols as complexing biomolecules of As and Cd in wild type and genetically modified Brassica juncea plants. Journal of Mass Spectrometry 41:323-331.

LeDuc, D.L., AbdelSamie, M., Móntes-Bayon, M., Wu, C.P., Reisinger, S.J., and Terry, N. 2006. Overexpressing both ATP sulfurylase and selenocysteine methyltransferase enhances selenium phytoremediation traits in Indian mustard. Environmental Pollution 144:70-76.

Lindblom SD, Abdel-Ghany SE, Hanson BR, Hwang S, Terry N, Pilon-Smits EAH 2006. Constitutive expression of a high-affinity sulfate transporter in Brassica juncea affects metal tolerance and accumulation. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35:726-733

LeDuc, D.L. and Terry, N. 2005. Genetic engineering stress tolerant plants for phytoremediation. In: Abiotic Stress Tolerence in Plants. Eds. A.K. Rai and T. Takabe. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Bañuelos, G., Terry, N., LeDuc, D., Pilon-Smits, E.A.H., and Mackey, B. 2004. Field trial of transgenic Indian mustard plants shows enhanced phytoremediation of selenium-contaminated soil. Environmental Science & Technology, 39:1771-1777

Wangeline AL, Burkhead JL, Hale KL, Lindblom S-D, Terry N, Pilon M, Pilon-Smits EAH (2004) Overexpression of ATP Sulfurylase in Brassica juncea: Effects on tolerance and accumulation of twelve metals. Journal of Environmental Quality 33:54-60

Van Huysen, T., N. Terry, and E. A. H. Pilon-Smits. 2004. Exploring the selenium phytoremediation potential of transgenic Indian mustard overexpressing ATP sulfurylase or cystathionine-γ-synthase. International Journal of Phytoremediation 6:111-118.

LeDuc, D.L., Tarun, A.S., Montes-Bayón, M., Meija, J., AbdelSamie, M., Wu, C.P., Malit, M.F., Chang, C.-Y., Tagmount, A., de Souza, M., Neuhierl, B., Böck, A., Caruso, J., and Terry, N. 2004. Overexpression of Selenocysteine Methyltransferase in Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica juncea Increases Selenium Tolerance and Accumulation. Plant Physiology 135:384-399.

Grant, T.D., Montes-Bayon, M., LeDuc, D., Fricke, M.W., Terry N., and Caruso, J.A. 2004. Identification and characterization of Se-methyl selenomethionine in Brassica juncea roots. Journal of Chromatography A. 1026:159-166.

Terry, N., Sambukumar, S.V., LeDuc, D.L. 2003. Biotechnological approaches for enhancing phytoremediation of heavy metals and metalloids. Acta Biotechnologica, 23:281-288

Van Huysen, A., Abdel-Ghany, S., Hale, K.L., LeDuc, D., Terry, N., and Pilon-Smits, E.A. 2003. Overexpression of cystathionine-gamma-synthase enhances selenium volatilization in Brassica juncea. Planta 218:71-78.

Ruiz, O.N., Hussein, H.S., Terry, N., and Daniell, H. 2003. Phytoremediation of organomercurial compounds via chloroplast genetic engineering. Plant Physiol. 132:1344-1352.

Bennett, L.E., Burkhead, J.L., Hale, K.L., Terry, N., Pilon, M., and Pilon-Smits, E.A. 2003. Analysis of transgenic Indian mustard plants for phytoremediation of metal-contaminated mine tailings. J. Environ. Qual. 32:432-440.

LeDuc, D.L. and Terry, N. 2003. Physiological and environmental significance of selenium. In Sulfur Transport and Assimilation in Plants. Regulation, Interaction, and Signaling. Eds. J.-C. Davidian, D. Grill, L.J. DeKok, I. Stulen, M.J. Hawkesford, E. Schnug, and H. Rennenberg. pp. 79-89. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Tagmount, A., Berken, A., and Terry, N. 2002. An essential role of S-adenosyl-L-methionine:methionine S-methyltransferase in selenium volatilization by plants: Methylation of selenomethionine to Se-methyl-L-Se-methionine, the precursor of volatile Se. Plant Physiol. 130:847-856.

Montes-Bayon, M., D.L. LeDuc, N. Terry, and Caruso, J.A. 2002. Selenium speciation in wild-type and genetically modified Se accumulating plants with HPLC separation and ICP-MS/ES-MS detection. J. Anal. Atomic Spectrom. 17:872-879.

Meija, J., M. Montes-Bayon, D.L. LeDuc, N. Terry, and Caruso, J.A. 2002. Simultaneous monitoring of volatile selenium and sulfur species from Se accumulating plants (wild-type and genetically modified) by GC-MS and GC-ICP-MS using SPME for sample introduction. Anal. Chem.74:5837-44.

Doucleff, M. and Terry, N. 2002. Pumping out the arsenic. Nature Biotechnology 20:1094-5.

Fox, P.M., D.L. LeDuc, H. Hussein, Z.-Q. Lin, and N. Terry. 2002. Selenium speciation in soils and plants. In: Y. Cai and O. Braids, eds., Biogeochemistry of Environmentally Important Trace Elements. ACS Symposium Series. p. 339-354.

Berken, A., Mulholland, M.M., LeDuc, D.L. and Terry, N. 2002. Genetic engineering of plants to enhance selenium phytoremediation. Critical Reviews in Plant Science, 21:567-582.

Lee, A., Z.Q. Lin, I. Pickering, and N. Terry. 2001. X-ray absorption spectroscopy study shows that the rapid selenium volatilizer, pickleweed (Salicornia bigelovii Torr.) reduces selenate to organic forms without the aid of microbes. Planta, 213:977-980.

Hale, K.L., S. McGrath, E. Lombi, S. Stack, N. Terry, I.J. Pickering, G.N. George, and E.A.H. Pilon-Smits. 2001. Molybdenum sequestration in Brassica: A role for anthocyanins? Plant Physiol., 126:1391-1402.

Pilon-Smits, E.A.H., Y.L. Zhu, T. Sears, and N. Terry. 2000. Over-expression of glutathione reductase in Brassica juncea: Effects on cadmium accumulation and tolerance. Physiolog. Plant., 110:455-460.

de Souza, M.P., C.M. Lytle, M. Mulholland, M.L. Otte and N. Terry. 2000. Selenium assimilation and volatilization from dimethylselenoniopropionate (DMSeP) by Indian mustard, Plant Physiol., 122:1281-1288.

Terry, N., A.M. Zayed, M.P. de Souza and A.S. Tarun. 2000. Selenium in higher plants, Ann. Rev. Plant Physiol. Plant Mol. Biol., 51:401-32.

II. Phytoremediation of Toxic Metals and Metalloids

Lin, Z.-Q., H. Mohamed, Z.H. Ye, and N. Terry. 2007. Phytorestoration of metal-contaminated industrial wasteland: a greenhouse feasibility study. In: D. Sarkar, R. Datta, and R. Hannigan (eds.), Concepts and Applications in Environmental Geochemistry. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Bañuelos, G.S., Z.-Q. Lin, I. Arroyo, and N. Terry. 2005. Selenium volatilization in vegetated agricultural drainage sediment from the San Luis Drain, Central California. Chemosphere. 60:1203-1213.

LeDuc, D.L. and Terry, N. 2005. Phytoremediation of Toxic Trace Elements in Soil and Water. Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, 32:514-520.

Ye, Z.H., Lin, Z.Q., Whiting, S.N., de Souza, M.P., and Terry, N. 2003. Possible use of constructed wetland to remove selenocyanate, arsenic, and boron from electric utility wastewater. Chemosphere 52:1571-9.

Neumann, P.M., de Souza, M.P., Pickering, I.J., and Terry, N. 2003. Rapid microalgal metabolism of selenate to volatile dimethylselenide. Plant Cell Environ. 26:897-905.

Lin, Z.Q. and Terry, N. 2003. Selenium removal by constructed wetlands: quantitative importance of biological volatilization in the treatment of selenium-laden agricultural drainage water. Environ. Sci. Technol. 37:606-615.

Gao, S., K.K. Tanji, D.W. Peters, Z.-Q. Lin, and N. Terry. 2003. Selenium removal from irrigation drainage water flowing through constructed wetland cells with special attention to accumulation in sediments. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 1:263-284.

Gao, S., Tanji, K.K., Lin, Z.Q., Terry, N., and Peters, D.W. 2003. Selenium removal and mass balance in a constructed flow-through wetland system. J. Environ. Qual. 32:1557-1570.

Aviles, C., Loza-Tavera, H., Terry, N., and Moreno-Sanchez, R. 2003. Mercury pretreatment selects an enhanced cadmium-accumulating phenotype in Euglena gracilis. Arch. Microbiol. 180:1-10.

Hale, K.H., Tufan, H.A., Pickering, I.J., George, G.N., Terry, N., Pilon, M., Pilon-Smits, E.A.H. 2002. Anthocyanins facilitate tungsten accumulation in Brassica. Physiol. Plantarum.116:351-358.

Zayed, A.M. and Terry, N. 2003. Chromium in the environment: factors affecting biological remediation. Plant and Soil, 249:139-156.

Banuelos, G.S., Lin, Z.Q., Wu, L., and Terry, N. 2002. Phytoremediation of selenium-contaminated soils and waters: fundamentals and future prospects. Rev. Environ. Health. 17:291-306.

Lin, Z.Q., de Souza, M., Pickering, I.J., and Terry, N. 2002. Evaluation of the macroalga, muskgrass, for the phytoremediation of selenium-contaminated agricultural drainage water by microcosms. J. Environ. Qual.31:2104-10

de Souza, M.P., Pickering, I.J., Walla, M., and Terry, N. 2002. Selenium assimilation and volatilization from selenocyanate-treated Indian mustard and muskgrass. Plant Physiol. 128:625-33.

Lin, Z.-Q., Cervinka, V., Pickering, I. J., Zayed, A., and Terry, N. 2002. Managing selenium-contaminated agricultural drainage water by the integrated on-farm drainage management system: Role of selenium volatilization.Water Research 36:3150-3160.

Ye, Z.H., S.N. Whiting, J.H. Qian, C.M. Lytle, Z.-Q. Lin, and N. Terry. 2001. Trace element removal from coal ash leachate by a 10-year old constructed wetland. Journal of Environmental Quality, 30:1710-1719.

de Souza, M.P., A. Amini, M.A. Dojka, I.J. Pickering, S.C. Dawson, N.R. Pace, and N. Terry. 2001. Identification and characterization of bacteria in a selenium-contaminated hypersaline evaporation pond. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 67:3785-3794.

Ye, Z., S.N. Whiting, Z.Q. Lin, C.M. Lytle, J.H. Qian, and N. Terry. 2001. Removal and distribution of Fe, Mn, Co and Ni within a Pennsylvania constructed wetland treating coal combustion by-product leachate. J. Environ. Qual., 30:1464-1473.

Whiting, S.N., M.P. de Souza, and N. Terry. 2001. Rhizosphere bacteria mobilize Zn for hyperaccumulation by Thlaspi caerulescens. Environ. Sci. Technol., 35:3144-3150.

Lin, Z-Q., R.S. Schemenauer, V. Cervinka, A. Zayed, A. Lee and N. Terry. 2000. Selenium volatilization from the soil-Salicornia bigelovii Torr. treatment system for the remediation of contaminated water and soil in the San Joaquin Valley, J. Environ. Quality, 29:1048-1056.

Terry, N., Banuelos (eds.) 2000. Phytoremediation of Trace Elements. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton. 389 pages.

Recent Teaching

99 - Supervised Independent Study and Research
135 - Physiology and Biochemistry of Plants
180 - Environmental Plant Biology
199 - Supervised Independent Study