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Open Access Research article

Cadmium uptake and partitioning in durum wheat during grain filling

Neil S Harris* and Gregory J Taylor

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB T6G 2E9, Canada

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-103

Published: 16 July 2013



Concentrations of cadmium (Cd) in the grain of many durum wheats (Triticum turgidum subsp. durum) grown in North American prairie soils often exceed international trade standards. Genotypic differences in root-to-shoot translocation of Cd are a major determinant of intraspecific variation in the accumulation of Cd in grain. We tested the extent to which changes in whole-plant Cd accumulation and the distribution of Cd between tissues influences Cd accumulation in grain by measuring Cd accumulation throughout the grain filling period in two near-isogenic lines (NILs) of durum wheat that differ in grain Cd accumulation.


Roots absorbed Cd and transported it to the shoots throughout the grain filling period, but the low- and high-Cd NILs did not differ in whole-plant Cd uptake. Although the majority of Cd accumulation was retained in the roots, the low- and high-Cd NILs differed substantively in root-to-shoot translocation of Cd. At grain maturity, accumulation of Cd in the shoots was 13% (low-Cd NIL) or 37% (high-Cd NIL) of whole-plant Cd accumulation. Accumulation of Cd in all shoot tissue, including grain, was at least 2-fold greater in the high-Cd NIL at all harvests. There was no net remobilization of shoot Cd pools during grain filling. The timing of Cd accumulation in grain was positively correlated with grain biomass accumulation, and the rate of grain filling peaked between 14 and 28 days post-anthesis, when both NILs accumulated 60% of total grain biomass and 61-66% of total grain Cd content.


These results show that genotypic variation in root-to-shoot translocation of Cd controls accumulation of Cd in durum wheat grain. Continued uptake of Cd by roots and the absence of net remobilization of Cd from leaves during grain filling support a direct pathway of Cd transport from roots to grain via xylem-to-phloem transfer in the stem.

Cadmium (Cd); Durum wheat; Near-isogenic lines (NIL); Grain filling; Uptake; Translocation; Remobilization