Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Using plants against soils contaminated with arsenic

Two essential genes that control the accumulation and detoxification of arsenic in plant cells have been identified. This discovery is the fruit of an international collaboration involving laboratories in Switzerland, South Korea and the United States, with the participation of members of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Plant Survival.

The results presented are a promising basis for reducing the accumulation of arsenic in crops from regions in Asia that are polluted by this toxic metalloid, as well as for the cleanup of soils contaminated by heavy metals. The findings are published this week in the prestigious journal PNAS.

The sinking of tubewells in Southeast Asia as well as mining in regions such as China, Thailand, and the United States, are the cause that arsenic concentrations in water often exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limit of 10 μg/L, the value above which health problems start to occur. Tens of millions of people are exposed to this risk by drinking contaminated water or by ingesting cereal crops cultivated in polluted soils.

A long lasting exposure to this highly toxic metalloid could affect the gastrointestinal transit, the kidneys, the liver, the lungs, the skin and increases the risk of cancer. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that 25 million people drink water that contains more than 50 μg/L of arsenic and that two million of them risk of dying from cancer caused by this toxic substance.

Plants offer a way for toxic metals to enter the food chain. We know, for example, that arsenic is stored within rice grains, which, in regions polluted with this toxic metalloid, constitutes a danger for the population whose diet depends to a great extent on this cereal.

Arsenic or cadmium in soils is transported to plant cells and stored in compartments called vacuoles. Within the cell, the translocation of arsenic and its storage in vacuoles is ensured by a category of peptides – the phytochelatins – that bind to the toxic metalloid, and are transported into the vacuole for detoxification, similar to hooking up a trailer to a truck. In terms of the process, it is the “truck and trailer” complex that is stored in the vacuole.

“By identifying the genes responsible for the vacuolar phytochelatin transport and storage, we have found the missing link that the scientific community searched for the past 25 years”, explains Enrico Martinoia, a professor in plant physiology at the University of Zurich. The experiments carried out on the model plant Arabidopsis can easily be adapted to other plants such as rice.

Enrico Martinoia is one of the directors of this research that includes the Korean professor Youngsook Lee from the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and Julian Schroeder, biology professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Along with Stefan Hörtensteiner, also from the University of Zurich, and Doris Rentsch from the University of Bern, he is one of the three members of the NCCR Plant Survival who participated in this study which was published in PNAS.

Controlling these genes will make it possible to develop plants capable of preventing the transfer of toxic metals and metalloids from the roots to the leaves and grains thereby limiting the entry of arsenic into the food chain. “By focusing on these genes, states Youngsook Lee, we could avoid the accumulation of these heavy metals in edible portions of the plant such as grains or fruits.”

At the same time, researchers have discovered a way to produce plants capable of accumulating a greater amount of toxic metals which consequently can be used to clean up contaminated soils. These plants would then be burned in blast furnaces in order to eliminate the toxic elements.

Won-Yong Song, Jiyoung Park, David G. Mendoza-Cózatl, Marianne Suter-Grotemeyer, Donghwan Shim, Stefan Hörtensteiner, Markus Geisler, Barbara Weder, Philip A. Rea, Doris Rentsch, Julian I. Schroeder, Youngsook Lee, Enrico Martinoia: Arsenic tolerance in Arabidopsis is mediated by two ABCC-type phytochelatin transporters, in: PNAS, Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1013964107
Prof. Enrico Martinoia
University of Zurich
Tel. : +41 44 634 8222

Beat Müller | idw
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Seeking balanced networks: how neurons adjust their proteins during homeostatic scaling.

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

More VideoLinks >>>