Scientists Just Discovered A New Metal-Eating Plant Species

A group of scientists from the University of the Philippines- Los Baños recently discovered a new species of plant that has developed a taste for metal, more specifically for nickel.

The plant, which they named Rinorea niccolifera because of its appetite for the metal, is able to absorb nickel in extremely high amounts, accumulating it at up to 18,000 ppm (parts per million) in its leaves without being poisoned.

These levels are a hundred to a thousand times greater than in most plants. According to the CDC, levels of Nickel above 5 ppm are “immediately dangerous to life” for humans.

Rinorea niccolifera (click to enlarge)

Nickel hyperaccumulation is a very rare attribute- only about 0.5-1% of plants living in nickel-rich soil have the ability. This new species was discovered in the iron-rich western region of the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

Plants with this extraordinary ability could prove to be extremely useful to us in the near future. Here’s Augustine Doronila from the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry, who co-authored the report which was published in Science Daily on May 9th:

“Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, ‘phytoremediation’ and ‘phytomining’.”

Some close ups of the plant at various stages in its development (click to enlarge)

Phytoremediation is the use of hyperaccumulators like this new species to remove heavy metals from soils contaminated by industrial processes. Nickel contamination can destroy entire ecosystems.

Phytomining, on the other hand, is the practice of growing hyperaccumulators to collect metals from the earth so that the metals can be harvested from the plants and used commercially.

Read more from Science Daily here.


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