Date: December 1, 2004
Creator: Meagher, Richard B.
Description: Phytoremediation is defined as the use of plants to extract, resist, detoxify, and/or sequester toxic environmental pollutants. The long-term goal of the proposed research is to develop and test highly productive, field-adapted plant species that have been engineered for the phytoremediation of mercury. A variety of different genes, which should enable plants to clean mercury polluted sites are being tested as tools for mercury phytoremediation, first in model laboratory plants and then in potential field species. Several of these genes have already been shown to enhance mercury phytoremediation. Mercury pollution is a serious, world-wide problem affecting the health of human and wildlife populations. Environmentally, the most serious mercury threat is the production of methylmercury (CH3Hg+) by native bacteria at mercury contaminated wetland sites. Methylmercury is inherently more toxic than metallic (Hg(0)) or ionic (Hg(II)) mercury, and because methylmercury is prolifically biomagnified up the food chain, it poses the most immediate danger to animal populations. We have successfully engineered two model plants, Arabidopsis and tobacco, to use the bacterial merB gene to convert methylmercury to less toxic ionic mercury and to use the bacterial merA gene to further detoxify ionic mercury to the least toxic form of mercury, metallic mercury. Plants ...
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