The aim of this review is to critically assess the benefits and limitations associated with the use of in vitro plant cell and organ cultures as research tools in phytoremediation studies. Plant tissue cultures such as callus, cell suspensions, and hairy roots are applied frequently in phytoremediation research as model plant systems. In vitro cultures offer a range of experimental advantages in studies aimed at examining the intrinsic metabolic capabilities of plant cells and their capacity for toxicity tolerance. The ability to identify the contributions of plant cells to pollutant uptake and detoxification without interference from microorganisms is of particular significance in the search for fundamental knowledge about plants. However, if the ultimate goal of plant tissue culture experiments is the development of practical phytoremediation technology, the limitations inherent in the use of in vitro cultures as a representative of whole plants in the field must be recognized. The bioavailability of contaminants and the processes of pollutant uptake and metabolite distribution are likely to be substantially different in the two systems; this can lead to qualitative as well as quantitative differences in metabolic profiles and tolerance characteristics. Yet, many studies have demonstrated that plant tissue cultures are an extremely valuable tool in phytoremediation research. The results derived from tissue cultures can be used to predict the responses of plants to environmental contaminants, and to improve the design and thus reduce the cost of subsequent conventional whole plant experiments. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2009;103: 60–76.