Auto maker Chrysler is pairing with Purdue University researchers to clean up pollutants at a former oil storage site in Kokomo, Indiana. They are turning not merely to technology but to nature. Specially bred transgenic poplar trees are being planted by the researchers, funded by Chrysler.
These trees have proven capable of absorbing trichloroethylene, or TCE, and other pollutants including leukemia-causing benzene. The pollutants are then metabolized into harmless products. They remove pollutants 100 times faster than non-genetically modified poplars.
The research is funded by a $1.3 million-grant as exploring ways to alter the trees to absorb even more pollution. Richard Meilan, a Purdue associate professor, is leading the study. The duration of the study is relatively short term and is designed to minimize genetic impact via breeding with natural trees; Meilan explains, "Three years should be enough time for them to grow up, send down roots to suck the pollutants up and break them down, then we'll cut them down before they have the chance to pass on their genes to the environment."
The burgeoning field of using plants to remove pollution is known as phytoremediation. If the study succeeds, poplars may become one of the field's biggest tools, as they are relatively hardy and grow over a broad range of climates.
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