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An integrated approach towards removal by plants of toxic metals from polluted soils (METALLOPHYTES)



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EU Contribution

1 249 998 Euro


36 months


Research project

Starting date


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This project represents an integrated approach towards the efficient removal of toxic metals from polluted soils using plants (phytoremediation). Our objectives are to identify and further characterise components with the potential to be useful for phytoremediation, as well as to apply the knowledge towards generating plants with desirable qualities for safe, cost-effective phytoextraction of toxic metals. Through phytoremediation we expect to reclaim land currently deemed unusable for agriculture. This will be both ecologically and economically beneficial to the agricultural community throughout European Union.

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Many soils, e.g. industrial waste grounds, are contaminated by environmentally harmful heavy metals. Our objective is to determine the genes essential for metal tolerance and homeostasis in plants. Using this information we propose to turn high-biomass plants with extensive and highly branched roots into metal accumulators by use of genetic manipulation. The metal-containing plants can be harvested and processed for concentration of the toxic metals.

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Within Europe more than 4 million ha are reputed to be contaminated with heavy metals. The decontamination of such soils by mechanical or chemical methods has turned out to be prohibitively expensive. An alternative method is to use plants that naturally accumulate heavy metals (hyperaccumulators) for decontamination of such soils. However, most natural metal accumulators are inefficient for phytoremediation due to slow growth and low biomass. Within the frame of our consortium, genes responsible for heavy metal uptake and tolerance will be introduced in Festuca, a grass species with high biomass, a deep root system that is amenable to genetic manipulation. Strategies for biomobilisation of heavy metals in the soil by genetically modified Festuca species will be exploited. Our attempts to liberate heavy metals from the soil will be based on secretion of acids by the plants and by targeted over-expression of appropriate transgenes in the root. As a group the partners have already identified many candidate genes. How they contribute to heavy metal homeostasis/tolerance will be tested initially in the model plant Arabidopsis.

The more strategic aspects of the programme will result in the identification and characterisation of new genes involved in heavy metal tolerance and transport.

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The final result will be transgenic Festuca with improved heavy metal tolerance and/or accumulation. Candidate genes and new genes that confer heavy metal tolerance/accumulation will have been identified and tested in the model plant Arabidopsis.

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  Prof. Michael G. Palmgren
Department of Plant Biology
The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University
Thorvaldsensvej 40
1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
Tel: +45 35282592
Fax: +45 35283365

  Dr. Stephan Clemens
Department of Stress and
Developmental Biology
Leibniz-Institu für Pflanzenbiochimie
Weinberg 3
06120 Halle, Germany
Tel: +49 3455582148
Fax: +49 3455582164

Prof. Enrico Martinoia
Institut de Botanique
Laboratoire de Physiologie Végétale
Université de Neuchâtel
Rue Emile-Argand 13
2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Tel: +41 327182292
Fax: +41 327182271

Dr. Klaus K. Nielsen
DLF-Trifolium, Research Division
PO Box 19
Højerupvej 31
4660 Store Heddinge, Denmark
Tel: +45 56503023
Fax: +45 56503524

Dr. Lorraine Williams
School of Biological Sciences
University of Southampton
Bassett Crescent East
SO15 2DH Southampton, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1703594278
Fax: +44 1703594319

Dr. Ute Krämer
Max-Plack Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie
Am Mühlenberg 1
14476 Golm, Germany
Tel: +49 3315678157/8160
Fax: +49 331567898157

Prof. Dale Sanders
The Plant Laboratory
Biology Department
University of York
PO Box 373
YO1 5YW York, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1904342825
Fax: +44 1904434317
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