Zinc in plants: Integrating homeostasis and biofortification.

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Zinc plays many essential roles in life. As a strong Lewis acid that lacks redox activity under environmental and cellular conditions, the Zn2+ cation is central in determining protein structure and catalytic function of nearly 10% of most eukaryotic proteomes. While specific functions of zinc have been elucidated at a molecular level in a number of plant proteins, wider issues abound with respect to the acquisition and distribution of zinc by plants. An important challenge is to understand how plants balance between Zn supply in soil and their own nutritional requirement for zinc, particularly where edaphic factors lead to a lack of bioavailable zinc or, conversely, an excess of zinc that bears a major risk of phytotoxicity. Plants are the ultimate source of zinc in the human diet, and human Zn deficiency accounts for over 400 000 deaths annually. Here, we review the current understanding of zinc homeostasis in plants from the molecular and physiological perspectives. We provide an overview of approaches pursued so far in Zn biofortification of crops. Finally, we outline a “push-pull” model of zinc nutrition in plants as a simplifying concept. In summary, this review discusses avenues that can potentially deliver wider benefits for both plant and human Zn nutrition.