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Scientists ramp up ability of poplar plants to disarm toxic pollutants
Date:10/15/2007

rates of uptake from solutions of chloroform, the byproduct of disinfecting drinking water; carbon tetrachloride, a solvent; and vinyl chloride, a substance used to make plastics. In air pollution experiments using 6-inch plants in closed containers, the transgenic plants had increased absorption of gaseous trichloroethylene and benzene, a pollutant associated with petroleum.

Work on phytoremediation at the UW has been funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.

Doty and her colleagues plan to do additional experiments to determine the detoxification rates when poplars are grown in soils, and to ensure that plant tissues do not harm non-target organisms, such as bugs that might chew on them.

Sites with contaminated groundwater are treated in a variety of chemical, physical and microbial ways, says Stuart Strand, UW professor of forest resources and a co-author of the paper. In some places the groundwater is pumped out of the ground and the contaminants allowed to evaporate into the air. In other places sugars pumped into the ground can clean contaminants but make the water anaerobic oxygen starved and can produce other toxic byproducts, he says.

"It's destructive, disruptive and expensive," Strand says.

Some people see transgenic trees as risky. "As researchers we want to make sure such concerns are addressed and risks minimized. In the case of contaminated sites, we're already facing bad situations where the use of transgenic plants may reduce the known risks from carcinogens and other hazardous pollutants in the environment. Our ultimate goal is to provide a more rapid way to reduce the amount of carcinogens, one that is affordable so many sites can be treated," Doty said.

Because there is concern that transgenic trees might get into regular forests, Doty and her colleagues believe poplars may be a good choice, she said. P
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Contact: Sandra Hines
shines@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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