A Newly Discovered Plant In Philippines Hides A Deadly, But Commercially Useful Secret

Plants have long offered the very basis of existence for the human and animal world. However, a new plant discovered in the Philippines may offer something much more.

Plants have traditionally consumed nutrients and minerals and converted those into sugars using solar energy via photosynthesis. However, scientists have recently discovered a new plant species in the Philippines with an unusual lifestyle. The plant eats ‘nickel’ for a living.

The new species, discovered by scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, is called Rinorea Niccolifera, reflecting its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts.

Plants consuming metals and minerals are nothing new, but eating nickel certainly doesn’t fall in normal consumption for a plant. The plant can accumulate up to 18,000 PPM of the metal in its leaves. Such an amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants. Despite such a high amount of nickel being present, the plant doesn’t appear to have poisoned itself. Under any other normal circumstances, a plant would have succumbed to nickel poisoning.

Nickel poisoning is commonly referred to as heavy metal poisoning and even in the animal world, such doses are extremely lethal. Nickel hyperaccumulation is an exceptionally rare phenomenon with only about 0.5-1 percent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils, having been recorded to exhibit the ability, shared researchers. In other words, only in regions where nickel is found in high concentrations do plants absorb the metal. Throughout the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait, which is still a small proportion of the estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants, reported Nature World News.

Dr. Marilyn Quimado, one of the lead scientists of the research team, was able to discover the plant on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines. This area is particularly notorious for soils that are alarmingly rich in heavy metals, reported Examiner.

Various Parts Of Rinorea Niccolifera

The deadly nature of the plant clearly indicates it is certainly not fit for human or animal consumption. But these unusually high concentrations of nickel can be ‘harvested’, said Dr. Augustine Doronila of the School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, “Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, ‘Phytoremediation’ and ‘Phytomining'”.

Dr. Augustine is the co–author of the report, ‘”Rinorea niccolifera (Violaceae), a new, nickel-hyperaccumulating species from Luzon Island, Philippines,” that will shed light on the practice of ‘farming’ such relatively dangerous plants for the resources they harbor within themselves.

Phytoremediation refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils. In simpler words, these plants can literally ‘suck’ out poisonous elements from the soil and make the earth fertile again.

Phytomining, on the other hand, is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites. In other words, farmers of the future can grow ‘crops’ of these plants and ‘harvest’ minerals and metals which have entered the body of the plants.

[Image Credit | Nature World News]