Recent work has demonstrated that minerals in plants are circulated between root and shoot. This occurs during the whole life time and renders possible response to changing environmental conditions. This mineral circulation occurs through intensive solute exchange between xylem and phloem in roots, stems, and leaves. The transport form of heavy metals such as iron, manganes, zinc and copper in the phloem, whether ionic or chelated, is unclear in most cases.
The unusual amino acid nicotianamine (NA) is ubiquitous throughout the plant kingdom. It is a chelator of several divalent transition metals. Its physiological role was investigated with the tomato mutant chloronerva, the only known NA-free multicellular plant. The mutant also exhibits disturbances of its iron metabolism and that of other heavy metals. This leads, among others, to a typical intercostal chlorosis and progressive iron accumulation in the leaves. From the heavy metal chelating properties of NA and from the phenotype of the mutant chloronerva it is concluded that NA is needed for normal distribution of heavy metals in young growing tissues fed via the phloem. This function could be fulfilled by mediating phloem loading or unloading of heavy metals as well as by preventing their precipitation in the alkaline phloem sap. An attempt is made to explain the chloronerva phenotype in the light of the phloem transport hypothesis of chelated iron.