Metal concentrations in soils are locally quite high, and are still increasing due to many human activities, leading to elevated risk for health and the environment. Phytoremediation may offer a viable solution to this problem, and the approach is gaining increasing interest. Improvement of plants by genetic engineering, i.e. by modifying characteristics like metal uptake, transport and accumulation as well as metal tolerance, opens up new possibilities for phytoremediation. So far, only a few cases have been reported where one or more of these characteristics have been successfully altered; e.g. mercuric ion reduction causing improved resistance and phytoextraction, and metallothionein causing enhanced cadmium tolerance. These, together with other approaches and potentially promising genes for transformation of target plants are discussed. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.