Plant Cells That Can Pluck Pollutants From Liquid

Talk about green technology. Paul Jackson, a microbiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is using plant cells to purify liquids contaminated with heavy metals, such as barium and uranium, and with the residue of explosives such as TNT.

Jackson runs contaminated liquid through a silica-based powder containing cells from citrus, corn, jimsonweed, and other plants. Since certain plants take up some minerals better than others, the mixture of cells is tailored to the contaminants. Like molecular claws, microscopic hooks located on the outside of the plant cells snatch toxins from the liquid. Jackson says lab studies show that contaminant levels are reduced to below federal standards at a rate of a gallon every three minutes. Acids strip metals from the sand and concentrate them in commercial quantities. Several chemical companies are interested in the technology, Jackson says.

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