New fungi study for forestry bio-remediation

Fungi living on the roots of plants could help remove toxic metals from the soil as well as helping plants find nutrients for themselves.

Scientists from the University of Dundee and Aberdeen studied the way Scots pine trees and the fungi that live on their roots act together to find and use phosphates as fertilisers.

The fungus makes powerful acids which dissolve compounds of metals such as copper, lead, zinc and cadmium it finds in the soil and frees up phosphates needed by the tree as fertiliser.

However, Dr Marina Fomina, who conducted the study, warned that those hoping to remediate contaminated soils could have one problem.

“The first stage of this process may actually increase the pollution in a contaminated site,” said Dr Fomina. “However, the toxic metals freed up by the fungus can also be taken in and stored by them, protecting the host plant’s roots. This makes the soil safer for the plant, allowing trees like the Scots pine to spread on contaminated sites, which in turn provides more places for the fungus to live.”

The research has increased scientists understanding of the ay toxic metal move through soils and provides a valuable insight into the way brownfield sites such as old mine workings, gas works or timber processing yards could be cleaned up in the future.

The researchers hope it will have important financial implications, not just for developers regenerating polluted sites for housing, but also agricultural industries as they replant forests and crops, but look to prevent toxic metals from enetering foods and water courses.

The full findings will be presented at the 157th meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at Keele University on the 13th September.

David Hopkins

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