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Metal-eating Plant Discovered in Philippines

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 7:00am
Pensoft Publishers

This photo shows the metal-eating plant, Rinorea niccolifera, in its natural habitat. Image: Edwino FernandoScientists from the Univ. of the Philippines, Los Baños have discovered a new plant species with an unusual lifestyle — it eats nickel for a living — accumulating up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned, says Prof. Edwino Fernando, lead author of the report. Such an amount is 100 to 1,000 times higher than in most other plants. The study was published in Pensoft Publishers’ open access journal PhytoKeys.

The new species is called Rinorea niccolifera, reflecting its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts. Nickel hyperaccumulation is such a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5–1 percent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability. Throughout the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait, which is still a small proportion of the estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants.

The new species, according to Marilyn Quimado, one of the lead scientists of the research team, was discovered on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, an area known for soils rich in heavy metals.

"Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining,'" explains Augustine Doronila of the Univ. of Melbourne, who is also co-author of the report.

Phytoremediation refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils. Phytomining, on the other hand, is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites.

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