By using bacteria to stimulate the exceptional growth capacity of certain plants and microscopic mushrooms, scientists believe will be able to create decontamination units that will successfully attack the most contaminated sites on the planet.
Mohamed Hijri, a professor of biological sciences and researcher at the University of Montreal’s Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV), took a Petri dish containing crude petroleum and it will release a strong odor distinctive of the toxins that make up the fossil fuel.
He then sprinkled mushroom spores over the Petri dish and let it sit for two weeks in an incubator, and to his surprise, the petroleum and its smell disappeared.
“The mushrooms consumed the petroleum!” Hijri said.
According to researchers, the recipe is simple, as during spring, one should plant willow cuttings at 25-centimeter intervals so the roots dive into the ground and soak up the degrading contaminants in the timber along with the bacteria.
At the end of the season, the stems and leaves are burnt and what is left is a handful of ashes imprisoning all of the heavy metals that accumulated in the plant cells. Highly contaminated soil will be cleansed after just a few cycles.
The principle is based on a well-known process in the sector called phytoremediation that consists in using plant matter for decontamination.
“However, in contaminated soils, it isn”t the plant doing most of the work,” says B. Franz Lang, a professor at the university’s Department of Biochemistry
“It”s the microorganisms i.e. the mushrooms and bacteria accompanying the root. There are thousands of species of microorganisms and our job is to find the best plant-mushroom-bacteria combinations,” he added.