It is a well-known fact that plants absorb the materials that are present in the soil around them. A university in the Philippines has discovered a new and very rare breed of plant that not only eats the heavy metal nickel, but it is completely unaffected by the poisons that are present in it. The plant has been given the name of Rinorea niccolifera and it is a newly discovered metal-eating plant.
The plant in question was discovered on the western part of the Luzon Island in the Philippines, by scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos. That particular section of the island is known for having soil that is quite saturated with heavy metals. Upon its discovery, scientists were astounded by the plants resilience to the soil and the metals that are present in it. Scientist acquired a sample plant and attempted to measure the capacity of heavy metal it was capable of holding. The scientists came to the conclusion that what they discovered is a metal-eating plant that has an amazing ability to accumulate over 18,000 ppm, or parts per million, of nickel in its system and it still does not succumb to the hazardous poisons that are contained within the metal. Since the plant has such a high capacity for absorbing heavy metal, scientist have dubbed Rinnorea niccolifera as a hyperaccumulator.
There are many other species of hyperaccumulators aside from the metal-eating plant which was discovered on the island in the Philippines. Of the 300,000 species of vascular plants that are known of throughout the world, only 450 of them have the same heavy metal absorbing quality as Rinnorea niccolifera. In addition to this is the fact that less than one percent of the plants with the same ability are able to absorb the amount of nickel that Rinnorea niccolifera is able to assimilate.
Doctor Augustine Doronila of the school of Chemistry in the University of Melbourne stated that plants that fall under the category of hyperaccumulator can have a role to play in research dealing with green technologies. The discovered metal-eating plant could have a hand in the uses of phytoremediation and phytomining. Phytoremeniation refers to the use of hyperaccumulator plants, like that of Rinnorea niccolifera, to remove heavy metals from an area that has become saturated with a heavy metal, either by a natural occurrence or through the fault of human error. Phytomining deals with the act of planting hyperaccumulator plants in order to recover heavy metals from a selected area, then later extracting the metal from the plant for later use.
According to scientists, as of yet there is no way to use the plant’s characteristics for commercial means. This is because the plant’s ability is so rare in its occurrence. However because of Rinnorea niccolifera, there is a place to start the research that can mean public use of the plant’s unique ability. The discovery of such a plant could spell major discoveries in the way of soil purification for planting new plant crops. This newly discovered metal-eating plant is the stepping stone to new green inventions, green jobs and so much more. Even if everything this plant is capable of is in theory, there is still a lot to be learned simply from its existence as a heavy metal-eating plant.
By Michael White