The University of Edinburgh (along with the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham, Newcastle University and Cranfield University) according to its Mar. 4, 2013 news release on EurekAlert is involved in a phytoremediation project,
Common garden plants are to be used to clean polluted land, with the extracted poisons being used to produce car parts and aid medical research.
Scientists will use plants such as alyssum, pteridaceae and a type of mustard called sinapi to soak up metals from land previously occupied by factories, mines and landfill sites.
Dangerous levels of metals such as arsenic and platinum, which can lurk in the ground and can cause harm to people and animals, will be extracted using a natural process known as phytoremediation.
A Mar. 4, 2013 news item on the BBC News Edinburgh, Fife and East Scotland site offers more details about the project and the technology,
A team of researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cranfield has developed a way of extracting the chemicals through a process called phytoremediation, and are testing its effectiveness.
Once the plants have drawn contaminated material out of the soil, they will be harvested and processed in a bio-refinery.
A specially designed bacteria will be added to the waste to transform the toxic metal ions into metallic nanoparticles.
The team said these tiny particles could then be used to develop cancer treatments, and could also be used to make catalytic converters for cars.
Dr Louise Horsfall, of Edinburgh’s University’s school of biological sciences, said: “Land is a finite resource. As the world’s population grows along with the associated demand for food and shelter, we believe that it is worth decontaminating land to unlock vast areas for better food security and housing.
“I hope to use synthetic biology to enable bacteria to produce high value nanoparticles and thereby help make land decontamination financially viable.”
The research team said the land where phytoremediation was used would also be cleared of chemicals, meaning it could be reused for new building projects.
In my Sept. 28, 2012 posting I featured an international collaboration between universities in the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand in a ‘phyto-mining’ project bearing some resemblance to this newly announced project. In that project, announced in Fall 2012, scientists were studying how they might remove platinum for reuse from plants near the tailings of mines.
I do have one other posting about phytoremediation. I featured a previously published piece by Joe Martin in a two-part series on the topic plant (phyto) and nano soil remediation. The March 30, 2012 posting is part one, which focuses on the role of plants in soil remediation.