Flower ‘biofactories’ could clean up polluted land, water

Researchers in the UK hope to use common flowers to not only remove poisons from soil but produce perfectly sized nanoparticles for catalytic converters, cancer treatments and other uses.

The £3 million project, “Cleaning Land for Wealth,” will test the ability of plants like Alyssum to remove arsenic, platinum and other pollutants from contaminated soil and water. The goal is to enable such polluted areas to be reclaimed and reused.

More than that, though, researchers aim to see whether those plants — once they’ve absorbed poisonous chemicals from the environment — can be used to produce tailor-made nanoparticles for a variety of purposes.

“The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make,” said Kerry Kirwan, a professor at the University of Warwick, one of five universities taking part in the project. “This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement. We are also expecting to recover other high value materials such as fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants etc. from the crops during the same biorefining process.”


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