Inspirations; December 2008; Scientific American Earth 3.0; by Melinda Wenner; Stephen D. Solomon; Ann Chin; Mark Fischetti; Barbara Juncosa; Susannah F. Locke; David Biello; 5 Page(s)
Every year Europe grows 900,000 hectares of rapeseed to produce biodiesel, the region¿s leading biofuel. But what if this crop could
provide a second ecological payoff? Scientists at Ireland¿s Institute of Technology, Carlow, are trying to use it for environmental cleanup, too.
Mining and industry processes contaminate soil with heavy metals¿ including arsenic, copper and nickel¿rendering it unusable for agriculture. Although some noncommercial plants can grow in such soils and even take up and remove the metals, potentially useful
crops¿rapeseed, for one¿fare poorly in these conditions. Carlow postdoctoral student Olivia Odhiambo wondered whether bacteria, which assist plants in modifying metals and converting nitrogen into energy, could also help rapeseed thrive in polluted earth.