Biotech Updates

Advanced Biotech Tools Can Develop Plants With Phytoremediation and Phytomining Properties

September 28, 2022

Developing synthetically engineered plants that can clean up polluted environments through phytoremediation and phytomining is one way that scientists are exploring to help alleviate the threats to the environment and human health while preserving technologically-critical metals that are starting to run out.

An article published by Science highlighted the wealth of biochemical plant diversity to help detoxify foreign substances in the earth's ecosystem. While a plant has limited enzymatic activities, this can be compensated by a wide variety of microbial enzymes that can process even the most challenging pollutants. Combining their abilities through genetic modification can produce plants with microbial xenobiotic-degrading enzymes to extend their physiology to detoxify organic pollutants. This phytoremediation process can even be enhanced with phytomining to restore denuded environments, as some plants can grow on naturally occurring metalliferous environments and take up metals.

While more research is needed, it is evident that the technology and protocols exist to develop plants that can phytoremediate and phytomine. Genetic transformation protocols that have been used in poplar trees, synthetic biology tools to create artificial hyperaccumulators, the technology to predict protein structure to design proteins with metal-binding abilities, and gene editing tools to confer traits into biomass species can all be used to explore ways and develop not only climate-smart plants but plants that can help clean the environment. Focusing on phytotechnologies while using a multipronged approach can help scientists identify plant species and genetic modification methods to come up with new ways for plants to increase their tolerance and uptake of metals in the environment.

Read the full paper in Science to learn more.

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