Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Fighting pollution the poplar way: Trees to clean up Indiana site

Purdue University researchers are collaborating with Chrysler LLC in a project to use poplar trees to eliminate pollutants from a contaminated site in north-central Indiana.

The researchers plan to plant transgenic poplars at the site, a former oil storage facility near Kokomo, Ind., this summer. In a laboratory setting, the transgenic trees have been shown to be capable of absorbing trichloroethylene, or TCE, and other pollutants before processing them into harmless byproducts.

Richard Meilan, a Purdue associate professor, is currently at work to transform one variety of poplar suited to Indiana's climate; cold-hardy poplars are generally more difficult to alter than the variety used in a laboratory setting.

"This site presents the perfect opportunity to prove that poplars can get rid of pollution in the real world," Meilan said.

In a study Meilan co-authored, published last October in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, poplar cuttings removed 90 percent of the TCE within a hydroponic solution in one week. The engineered trees also took up and metabolized the chemical 100 times faster than unaltered hybrid poplars, which have a limited ability to remove and degrade the contaminant on their own, he said.

The transgenic poplars contain an inserted gene that encodes an enzyme capable of breaking down TCE and a variety of other environmental pollutants, including chloroform, benzene, vinyl chloride and carbon tetrachloride.

Meilan said he believes the transgenic poplars will be able to remove the TCE from the site, named Peter's Pond, which was contaminated by tainted oil stored there in the 1960s. The chemical, used as an industrial solvent and degreaser, lies within 10 feet of the surface, making it accessible to poplar roots, he said.

TCE, the most common groundwater pollutant on Superfund sites, is a probable human carcinogen and causes various health problems when present in sufficiently high levels in water or air.

Meilan said planting transgenic trees in the field remains controversial, primarily due to concerns that inserted genes, or transgenes, might escape and incorporate into natural tree populations.

"It is legitimate to be concerned about transgenic plants, but we are taking comprehensive steps to ensure that our transgenes don't escape into the environment," Meilan said.

Meilan has applied for a permit to grow transgenic poplars in a field, or non-laboratory, setting from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the government organization responsible for regulating such research activities, he said.

In order to comply with permit guidelines and to protect the environment, Meilan's team will take measures to prevent any plant material from leaving the site and will remove the trees after three years, short of the five it takes for poplars to reach sexual maturity, he said.

"Three years should be enough time for them to grow up, send down roots to suck the pollutants up and break them down," Meilan said. "Then we'll cut them down before they have the chance to pass on their genes to the environment."

Besides their utility in phytoremediation, or pollution removal, poplars have promise as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. To investigate their potential in this area, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.3 million grant to Meilan and two colleagues, professors Michael Ladisch, agricultural and biological engineering, and lead researcher Clint Chapple, biochemistry.

They are currently investigating ways to alter the composition of poplar lignin, which provides rigidity to the plant cell wall by binding to strands of cellulose, a complex sugar that can be converted into ethanol.

Chrysler will fund the Kokomo project and said that the TCE is contained within an isolated water table at Peter's Pond and presents no public hazard.

The original study, led by University of Washington professors Stuart Strand and Sharon Doty, revealed that the transgenic poplars also were able to absorb TCE vapors through their leaves before metabolizing the chemical. Tree cuttings removed 79 percent of the airborne TCE from a chamber within one week. This suggests poplars could one day help mitigate air as well as water pollution.

If the project succeeds, poplars may be used for phytoremediation elsewhere. Poplars grow across a wide geographic range and in many different climates, Meilan said.

Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765) 496-2050,
Source: Richard Meilan, (765) 496-2287,
Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,

Douglas M. Main | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

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

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>