Many areas of the world are affected simultaneously by salinity and heavy metal pollution. Halophytes are considered as useful candidates in remediation of such soils due to their ability to withstand both osmotic stress and ion toxicity deriving from high salt concentrations. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd) is a halophyte with a high resistance to abiotic stresses (drought, salinity, frost), but its capacity to cope with heavy metals has not yet been fully investigated. In this pot experiment, we investigated phytoextraction capacity, effects on nutrient levels (P and Fe), and changes in gene expression in response to application of Cr(III) in quinoa plants grown on saline or non-saline soil. Plants were exposed for three weeks to 500 mg kg−1 soil of Cr(NO3)3·9H2O either in the presence or absence of 150 mM NaCl. Results show that plants were able tolerate this soil concentration of Cr(III); the metal was mainly accumulated in roots where it reached the highest concentration (ca. 2.6 mg g−1 DW) in the presence of NaCl. On saline soil, foliar Na concentration was significantly reduced by Cr(III). Phosphorus translocation to leaves was reduced in the presence of Cr(III), while Fe accumulation was enhanced by treatment with NaCl alone. A real-time RT-qPCR analysis was conducted on genes encoding for sulfate, iron, and phosphate transporters, a phytochelatin, a metallothionein, glutathione synthetase, a dehydrin, Hsp70, and enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of proline (P5CS), glycine betaine (BADH), tocopherols (TAT), and phenolic compounds (PAL). Cr(III), and especially Cr(III)+NaCl, affected transcript levels of most of the investigated genes, indicating that tolerance to Cr is associated with changes in phosphorus and sulfur allocation, and activation of stress-protective molecules. Moderately saline conditions, in most cases, enhanced this response, suggesting that the halophytism of quinoa could contribute to prime the plants to respond to chromium stress.
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