Plant-derived saponin enhances biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons in the rhizosphere of native wild plants

Son A. Hoang, Dane Lamb, Binoy Sarkar, Balaji Seshadri, Su Shiung Lam, Ajayan Vinu, Nanthi S. Bolan

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Plant-derived saponins are bioactive surfactant compounds that can solubilize organic pollutants in environmental matrices, thereby facilitating pollutant remediation. Externally applied saponin has potential to enhance total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) biodegradation in the root zone (rhizosphere) of wild plants, but the associated mechanisms are not well understood. For the first time, this study evaluated a triterpenoid saponin (from red ash leaves, Alphitonia excelsa) in comparison to a synthetic surfactant (Triton X-100) for their effects on plant growth and biodegradation of TPH in the rhizosphere of two native wild species (a grass, Chloris truncata, and a shrub, Hakea prostrata). The addition of Triton X-100 at the highest level (1000 mg/kg) in the polluted soil significantly hindered the plant growth (reduced plant biomass and photosynthesis) and associated rhizosphere microbial activity in both the studied plants. Therefore, TPH removal in the rhizosphere of both plant species treated with the synthetic surfactant was not enhanced (at the lower level, 500 mg/kg soil) and even slightly decreased (at the highest level) compared to that in the surfactant-free (control) treatment. By contrast, TPH removal was significantly increased with saponin application (up to 60% in C. truncata at 1000 mg/kg due to enhanced plant growth and associated rhizosphere microbial activity). No significant difference was observed between the two saponin application levels. Dehydrogenase activity positively correlated with TPH removal (p < 0.001) and thus this parameter could be used as an indicator to predict the rhizoremediation efficiency. This work indicates that saponin-amended rhizoremediation could be an environmentally friendly and effective biological approach to remediate TPH-polluted soils. It was clear that the enhanced plant growth and rhizosphere microbial activity played a crucial role in TPH rhizoremediation efficiency. The saponin-induced molecular processes that promoted plant growth and soil microbial activity in the rhizosphere warrant further studies. © 2022
Original languageEnglish
Article number120152
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2022


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