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Plants require at least 14 mineral elements for their nutrition. These include the macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S) and the micronutrients chlorine (Cl), boron (B), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), nickel (Ni) and molybdenum (Mo). These are generally obtained from the soil. Crop production is often limited by low phytoavailability of essential mineral elements and/or the presence of excessive concentrations of potentially toxic mineral elements, such as sodium (Na), Cl, B, Fe, Mn and aluminium (Al), in the soil solution.
This article provides the context for a Special Issue of the Annals of Botany on ‘Plant Nutrition for Sustainable Development and Global Health’. It provides an introduction to plant mineral nutrition and explains how mineral elements are taken up by roots and distributed within plants. It introduces the concept of the ionome (the elemental composition of a subcellular structure, cell, tissue or organism), and observes that the activities of key transport proteins determine species-specific, tissue and cellular ionomes. It then describes how current research is addressing the problems of mineral toxicities in agricultural soils to provide food security and the optimization of fertilizer applications for economic and environmental sustainability. It concludes with a perspective on how agriculture can produce edible crops that contribute sufficient mineral elements for adequate animal and human nutrition.