Phytoremediation: Using Plants To Combat a Stressed Environment

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Phytoremediation: Using Plants To Combat a Stressed Environment

Plants have long been adapting the traits necessary to survive in a wide variety of stressful environments – including areas of high salinity, extreme heat, drought, and freezing temperatures - but now, using genetic modification, scientists have been able to expand the role that plants play in the environment. With the advent of transgenic biotechnology, plants can be enhanced with qualities that not only allow them to flourish in stressed environments but also allow them to be used in the effort to alleviate certain environmental stresses. Phytoremediators, plants that are used to clean-up soil in contaminated areas, can remove heavy metals, arsenic, petroleum, TNT,
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(Bentjen, 2002)

Phytoremediation is a naturally occurring process that was recognized and documented by humans more than 300 years ago. (Lasat, 2000) Since this time, humans have exploited certain plants’ abilities to survive in contaminated areas and to assist in the removal of contaminants from soil. However, true scientific study and development of these plants unique qualities was not conducted until the early 1980’s. (Lasat, 2000) At this time it was recognized that certain species of plants could accumulate high levels of heavy metals from the soil while continuing to grow and proliferate normally. (Lasat, 2000) Although research has been slow and tedious due to scientists’ incomplete understanding of the generalized cellular mechanisms of plants, the advent of new genetic technology has allowed scientists to determine the genetic basis for high rates of accumulation of toxic substances in plants. (Clemens et al., 2002) Using genetic engineering, scientists may soon be able to exploit this characteristic to provide a faster more efficient means of removing contaminants from the soil. Genetic

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