Australian Native Plants Could Clean Up Polluted Soils And Chemical Spills, A New Study Reveals

A new study indicates that plants such as Australian native plants could be used in biotechnology to clean up polluted soils and chemical spills, including radioactive isotopes.

The research, which will be completed in November, is led by Megan Phillips, an environmental scientist from the University of Technology Sydney and other colleagues. They used the biotechnology referred to as “phytoremediation” that makes use of natural plant processes to make contaminated regions safe again, according to Phillips.

Phytoremediation is a technology that uses green plants for the removal and degradation of contaminants in soils, sediments, sludges, groundwater and surface water through the natural biological, chemical or physical activities and processes of the plants. It involves growing plants in a contaminated matrix for a period of time and these plants could be subsequently harvested, processed, and disposed of. It is also a solar energy driven cleanup technique and used for treating environmental contaminants, according to United Nations Environment Programme.

The plants could clean up or remediate the contaminated sites by acting as filters or traps. The principal mechanisms for preventing contaminant toxicity are found in the root system, which absorbs and accumulates the water and nutrients that are needed for growth and other non-essential contaminants.

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In the research, the scientists use the native Australian plants. Phillips said that their native plants are pre-adapted to their harsher environmental conditions much more likely to endure in the long term if they plant them in contaminated regions. She further said these plants are effective in biotechnology and could decontaminate the areas safely with minimal invasive disturbance to the community and native species.

Phillips also said that plants such as sunflowers could soak up radioactive isotopes, as shown in one study. Also, the Indian Mustard plant could accumulate heavy metals from polluted soils, according to Science Alert.

In addition, phytoremediation is cost-effective and could be 10 times cheaper compared to employing an excavator that digs out the contaminated site and moves the waste to landfill. It is also used in overseas in former airfields and industrial sites and found to be successful. Phillips concluded that this biotechnology could be promising for real-world application and could potentially be used to manage contaminated land in the future.

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