A newly described shrub species is capable of consuming between 100 to 1000 times the amount of nickel that normal plants can. A team from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños that described the species in a new report also found that its ability to ‘eat’ toxic levels of metal could make the shrub a potential antidote to toxic waste sites around the globe.
Edwino Fernando and colleagues from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños say that the new plant, called Rinorea niccolifera, has evolved to draw up nutrients and water from the soil like normal plants, but is also able to absorb poisonous nutrients that would kill most. Known as hyperaccumulators, these plants are able to eat poisonous metals, but nickel hyperaccumulation is reportedly particularly rare.
The research team believes that only about half a percent of the world’s known plant species can consume such levels of nickel without dying. The problem is that Rinorea niccolifera is quite rare and was only recently discovered. However, in their new paper, the researchers theorize that the plants could be grown near landfills, mines and other environmentally damaged sites.
They believe that the plants would literally be able to ‘suck’ the toxins out of the soil. Once fully grown, the metals could be removed from the harvested plants via the recycling process known as phytoremediation. A similar process has already been put to use in Maryland, where trees have been slowly removing toxins left by chemical weapons and industrial chemicals when the area was used as a ‘proving ground’ in the 1970s.
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