Oil seed rape grown for biofuel can help clean up toxic soils

September 9, 2008

Oil seed rape grown for biofuel in Ireland could help clean up contaminated soils, scientists heard today at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting being held this week at Trinity College, Dublin.

Using plants to help clean up heavily polluted soils has been successfully tested for many years and shown to be a cheap and environmentally friendly way to clear heavy metals such as arsenic, copper, zinc and chromium from contaminated land. The main problem with the method has been the amount of time it takes to grow successive crops of plants to clean up an area. Now scientists may have come up with a solution by combining heavy metal tolerant bacteria with plants used to make biofuels such as oil seed rape.

"We discovered that inoculating the plants with metal resistant bacteria provided them with sufficient protection that their seeds germinated better and their growth was enhanced. The plant leaves accumulate the metals, the bacteria deal with the contamination, and the plants seem to benefit from some of their activity," says Olivia Odhiambo from the Institute of Technology, Carlow, Ireland.

Oilseed rape is a member of the Brassica family, which also includes cabbages and Brussels sprouts. It is well suited to Irish growing conditions and is already widely grown by farmers for biodiesel production.

"As some of the bacterial strains we tested are showing enhanced growth properties in the crop, this also means greater plant production and more biodiesel," says Olivia Odhiambo. "This is good news for owners of land that cannot currently be used for food plants due to heavy metal contamination. However, this technology could also have much wider implications in improving biofuel crop production nationally and internationally by simply helping farmers grow more fuel per hectare."

The scientists have looked at two types of metal tolerant bacteria which colonise the leaves of the oil seed rape plants and one metal tolerant type that lives in the roots of other brassicas and found that all three were successful in promoting the plant growth, although they did show different tolerances to different heavy metals. The Carlow team now hopes to extend their study to include other commercial biofuel plants and different strains of metal resistant bacteria.

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Application of new spectroscopy method to capture reactions in photosynthesis

Related Stories

German researchers using plants to mine germanium

September 9, 2015

A team of researchers at Germany's Freiburg University of Mining and Technology has found a new way to get germanium (which was first discovered in that country and used in early transistors), according to a report from Reuters—they ...

Where is solar power headed?

July 22, 2015

Most experts agree that to have a shot at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to extricate our society from fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewable energy.

Recommended for you

Asteroid impact, volcanism were one-two punch for dinosaurs

October 1, 2015

Berkeley geologists have uncovered compelling evidence that an asteroid impact on Earth 66 million years ago accelerated the eruptions of volcanoes in India for hundreds of thousands of years, and that together these planet-wide ...

History shows more big wildfires likely as climate warms

October 5, 2015

The history of wildfires over the past 2,000 years in a northern Colorado mountain range indicates that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate, according to new study led by a University of ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 09, 2008
arsenic 33, copper 29, zinc 30 and chromium 24 are hardly heavy metals.

... and so now you have arsenic laced plant leaves, now what do you do with them?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.