Phytoremediation, or the use of plants for hazardous waste remediation, is an increasingly popular idea for treating waste – particularly heavy metals. It could be an environmentally-friendly and cost effective solution to waste cleanup. While phytoremediation has been deemed by many to be feasible, there is still work to be done to eliminate the problems with this method.
The time is now to find new solutions. Heavy metal contaminants are increasingly common due to industry practices and natural processes. They are non-biodegradable and persist in the environment. Heavy metals are the most common contaminant in our food and cause a myriad of problems for the human body.
Phytoremediation and CRISPR
While Phytoremediation has been an overly exciting revelation in the past few decades, many researchers worry that the effectiveness could lessen with a changing climate. Changes to our climate could impact the growth and productivity of the plants. Many plants won’t be able to adapt quickly enough.
Researchers are working on ways to speed up the adaptation of the plants used during phytoremediation. The CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system, which inserts, removes, or replaces genes to add or subtract a genomic characteristic, has emerged as a possible solution to creating “climate-resistant metal hyperaccumulation plants”.
This study was not to develop a process for using CRISPR, but simply to explore the possibilities. The scientists on the study feel confident that plants that are more robust and able to handle an increase in the global temperature could be created using gene editing. They also felt sure that because the species already exists in nature, there is no concern that the altered plants will cause a negative impact to the ecology, like invasive species.
The study encouraged future study of the genetic modification of proteins involved in the heat stress process of a plant, as well as more information on plant regenerative activity.
Choosing the Right Plant
Not all plants work on all contaminants. The success of phytoremediation depends on correctly matching the plant that will most effectively remove the contaminant present. There has been a lot of research up to this point to discover the best trees for each contaminant.
The next challenge has been that there are often hundreds, even thousands, of contaminants at a site. The presence and concentrations of the contaminants can change over time. Researchers have to identify the best one and the difficulty of that has made phytoremediation not as efficient as it could be.
To combat this problem and make phytoremediation more attractive, researchers at the University of Missouri teamed up with the USDA Forest Service to create https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479721000931?via%3Dihuba tool to help prioritize the most hazardous contaminants at a location. By quickly finding the contaminant that is the most concerning, scientist can better match the correct tree to make remediation as quick and efficient as possible.
This tool will also help scientists communicate with the public about the remediation efforts. With it, they can pinpoint how long the process will take and how well it will work.