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Plants to be used to clear pollution from industrial sites

Ferns
Image caption Scientists will use plants such as ferns to soak up metals from derelict land

Common garden plants are to be used to clean polluted industrial land, with scientists aiming to use the waste produced to further medical research.

Plants such as alyssum and ferns will soak up metals from derelict land previously occupied by factories, mines and landfill sites.

Researchers will then test a method of extracting chemicals from the plants.

Some former industrial sites contain high levels of harmful metals like arsenic and platinum.

A team of researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cranfield has developed a way of extracting the chemicals through a process called phytoremediation, and are testing its effectiveness.

Once the plants have drawn contaminated material out of the soil, they will be harvested and processed in a bio-refinery.

Finite resource

A specially designed bacteria will be added to the waste to transform the toxic metal ions into metallic nanoparticles.

The team said these tiny particles could then be used to develop cancer treatments, and could also be used to make catalytic converters for cars.

Dr Louise Horsfall, of Edinburgh's University's school of biological sciences, said: "Land is a finite resource. As the world's population grows along with the associated demand for food and shelter, we believe that it is worth decontaminating land to unlock vast areas for better food security and housing.

"I hope to use synthetic biology to enable bacteria to produce high value nanoparticles and thereby help make land decontamination financially viable."

The research team said the land where phytoremediation was used would also be cleared of chemicals, meaning it could be reused for new building projects.

The study is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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