Seed germination, as a critical phase in plant development, is commonly used as an indicator for risk assessment (Kaur 2017, Luo 2018, Shen 2016, Varjani 2020). It was also the first step in the process of evaluating appropriate plants for remediation of contaminated soils (Dib et al., 2019). According to the present study, the light crude oil caused a significant reduction in the seed germination of the experimental group (Table 1). This finding is consistent with the results of Lorestani et al., (2014), who reported that 1, 2, 3, and 4% of light crude oil in soil (w/w) reduced the seed germination of Vicia ervilia. In contrast to their results, we received a dose dependent response in the seed germination within the experimental group. The dose-dependent response of seed germination in the present study is consistent with the reports of Oyedeji et al., (2015) who showed that increasing crude oil content in the soil resulted in more severe adverse effects on the seed germination of some legume tree species.
Decreased ability of seeds to germinate in hydrocarbon contaminated soils has been reported by other researchers as well. Tran et al., (2018) showed adverse effects of oil pollution on the germination of Acacia raddiana and Acacia tortilis seeds. Zhu et al. (2018) reported that seed germination of some grass species is negatively affected by crude oil-contaminated soil. They assessed seed germination in weathered crude oil contaminated soil (1 part crude oil, 8.5 parts sandy loam soil) and scored a range of reduction from 4.3 to 100% among examined species. However, Perez-Hernandez et al., (2013) found that heavy crude oil in soil did not have a significant effect on the seed germination of some tropical trees, and even they observed a positive effect on the seed germination rate for some species. Fismes et al., (2002) also found that seed germination and growth of carrot and lettuce were not affected significantly even at high concentrations of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soil. Accordingly, the impact of oil-contaminated soils on seed germination depends on plant species and the type and concentration of oil (Besalatpour 2008, Fismes 2002, Oyedeji 2015, Perez-Hernandez 2013).
Crude oil is hydrophobic and hence it covers seed coats, and possibly act as a physical barrier to oxygen and water uptakes (Besalatpour 2008, Ighovie 2014). Volatile components of crude oil are accounted for decreasing seed germination (Zhu 2018). Decreased germination can be discussed as a result of overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) too. The level of ROS is elevated as the rate of mitochondrial respiration increases during seed germination (Janku 2019). Also, it is documented that hydrocarbon contamination causes oxidative stress in plants by inducing the production of ROS (Cui 2016, Ghalamboran 2020, Noori 2018); therefore the fail of seeds to germinate can be assumed as a result of ROS accumulation in seed tissues. However, further studies is necessary to find out the level of ROS in seed tissues and embryos of Vicia faba.
The reduction of root length in the present study is consistent with the results of other researchers. For example, Shirdam et al., (2009) reported that crude oil decreased the root length of Kochia scoparia (L.) Schard and Linum usitatissumum L. up to 76.9 and 78.2%, respectively. Vigna unguiculata grown in gasoline contaminated soil developed shorter roots than control (Achuba 2018). Cruz et al., (2019) showed that the contamination of soil with petroleum and diesel fuel at 6.8% (w/w) resulted in 75 and 53% reductions in the root and 70% of hypocotyl, respectively. However, according to Hawrot-Paw and Bakowska (2014), there are some plant species that can compensate the decline of root growth and even develop longer roots than unaffected plants. They reported that Vicia faba ssp. Minor could grow longer roots than control after 14 days of germination at 1% diesel oil. However, the shorter roots in the current study contradict the reports of Lorestani et al., (2014), which surveyed the effect of light crude oil in the soil at 1, 2, 3, and 4% (w/w) on Faba vulgaris and Vicia ervilia. They reported longer roots for treated plants at all contaminations compared to control, except at 4% contamination.
Developing shorter roots in the current study can be described as a result of penetration of some hydrocarbons into the seed and or root tissues. A number of researchers have documented the presence of oil-derived hydrocarbons in the roots of plants grown in oil-contaminated soils. For example, Rao et al., (2007) found aliphatic hydrocarbons in Vicia faba root, and Gao and Zhu (2004) showed the accumulations of two kinds of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (phenanthrene and pyrene) in the roots of examined plants. They also reported a positive correlation between the amounts of phenanthrene and pyrene in the roots with corresponding concentrations in soils. Inhibition of root growth in the current study can be explained as a result of the low penetration of water in the soil and limited access to water and oxygen because of hydrophobicity nature of crude oil. However, it is documented that hydrocarbons can change the activity of enzymes and reduce the amount of nutrients. For example, Achuba and Iserhienrhien (2018) reported a significant (p ˂ 0.05) reduction of total sugar, protein, and amino acids in Vigna unguiculata seedlings grown in gasoline contaminated soil. They also reported significant decreases for α-amylase and starch phosphorylase activities under gasoline contaminations.
Cytotoxicity and genotoxicity
A cytotoxic compound may increase or decrease the MI values in the root tip meristem (Salazar-Mercado 2019). A reduction in the MI can be attributed to disruption of DNA synthesis and an increase in the MI can be related to the role of pollutants in inducing tumors (Kayumov 2019). The current study showed a significant increase in the MI values for seeds grown in crude oil-contaminated soils. Achuba (2006) reported significant reductions of cell divisions in the root of cowpea seedlings exposed to 1 and 2% crude oil contaminations. Njoku et al., (2011) showed inhibitions of cell divisions in different accessions of Sorghum bicolor root tips treated with crude oil. Also, Ma et al., (2014) reported the negative effects of aqueous extracts of crude oil-contaminated soils on the division of root tip meristem of Vicia faba. However, Cruz et al., (2019) did not find any significant changes for the MI values in Allium cepa roots subjected to petroleum pollution, while they found significant changes in response to diesel contamination. Researchers concluded that inhibition of cell divisions led to reductions in the lengths of the roots. According to the results of the current study, increased MI did not have any positive effects on the longitudinal growth of roots, and the experimental group had shorter roots than the control. It must be taken into account that root elongation depends on various factors such as hormones, expansin proteins, turgor pressure, and enzymes; therefore cell proliferation is not the only reason for root elongation.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as a constituent of crude oil can induce cell death in the plants. Alkio et al., (2005) reported cell death in Arabidopsis leaves as a result of phenanthrene exposure. Therefore increasing MI values in the current study may be a compensation mechanism that the plant applies to substitute dead cells with the new ones. It should be noted that a negative correlation was found between the MI values and the crude oil concentrations. Doubling the oil contamination, there were 28.39 and 45.17% significant reductions in the MI of the plants exposed to 2 and 4% contaminations compared with 1%, respectively; however, these values were still significantly more than that of control (Table 2).
According to Pena-Castro et al., (2006), petroleum hydrocarbons can up-regulate some genes that act in signal transduction pathways and result in cell division. Therefore, increased values of MI can be assumed to occur due to changes in signal transduction pathways involved in the cell cycle, need to be explored in future studies.
The current study indicated the significant (p˂0.05) genotoxic effects of light crude oil as it induced MN formation and anomalies, including nuclear buds and CAs in root tip cells. Bridges, vagrant, laggard and sticky chromosomes, breaks, C-mitosis, disturbed polarity, and polyploidies were observed anomalies in the current study (Figs. 1 and 2). The MN formation showed a dose-dependent manner in the current study, while the CA frequencies were not related to the concentration of light crude oil. It may be concluded that the light crude oil had a clastogenic effect at high concentrations, and because of that, cells tried to exclude DNA in the form of MN and nuclear bud. MN and nuclear buds are formed from chromosome fragments and/or whole chromosomes, which left behind in the anaphase and failed to take part in the formation of the daughter nucleus after telophase. They have been proposed as indicators for clastogenic and aneugenic effects of environmental agents (Cruz 2019, Nouairi 2019, Souguir 2013). Studies showed that oil pollution induces oxidative conditions in plants by enhancing the ROS levels. On the other hand, oxidative stress can induces DNA damage and destroy the genetic material (Ei Hajjouji 2007); therefore the clastogenic effects of light crude oil may be attributed to the role of light crude oil in inducing oxidative stress, need to prove in future studies (Ighovie 2014).
Observed aberrations and anomalies in the current study may indicate the effect of light crude oil on the organization of mitotic spindle, which led to the formation of aberrations like C-mitosis and disturbed polarity. Diagonal anaphase and C-mitosis alongside laggards and disturbed chromosome orientations have been attributed to disruption of spindle formation because of the changed activity of cyclin-dependent kinases (Fatma 2018). Bridges are clastogenic aberrations that may result from a disruption of the chromatin structure and or a chemical interaction with spindle proteins and microtubules (Thabet 2019). They are suggested as typical signs of the genotoxic effects of a contaminant that can lead to cell death (Bhat 2019, Ma 2014, Youssef 2018). Light crude oil may act on spindle formation and mitosis by affecting gene expression. Fatma et al., (2018) discussed disoriented chromosomes during metaphase and anaphase as an impact of a pollutant on genes responsible for spindle formation.
The genotoxic effect of oil pollution and occurrence of different anomalies at different contaminations in the current study are compatible with the findings of Njoku et al., (2011), which surveyed the toxic effects of crude oil on Sorghum bicolor accessions seeds (0, 2, 4, 6, and 8% by volume of crude oil in distilled water) and recorded different kinds of aberrations at different concentrations. It is also consistent with the findings of Ma et al., (2014), who performed a toxicity test by exposing Vicia faba root tips to various water extracts of petroleum-contaminated soils. We found an incidence of nuclear buds, polyploidies, and significant induction of MN formation only at 4% contamination. This observation can be discussed as aneugenic and clastogenic effects of light crude oil and cell tendency to the elimination of exceeding DNA in the form of buds and or MN (Fernandes 2007). Also, it can explain what we observed about the decrease of CA at 4% contamination compared with 2%, despite the increase of light crude oil contamination in soil.
According to the results, the maximum value for MI was at 1% contamination, while the highest percentages of anomalies and MN formation were recorded in 2 and 4% contaminations, respectively. The lack of the same trend for these three indexes in response to crude oil shows that different points of the cell cycle of Vicia faba root tip cells have been affected by light crude oil in the current study.