Science Pops Open, Ep. 17: Plants & Poisons: Assessing Contamination in Our Environment

Research fellows of the AXA Research Fund tell the story of their work to reduce an array of risks

When a poison contaminates our environment, not only can it pollute the soil and water, it can also be taken up by plants, rendering them—or specific parts of them—toxic. Natalia Ospina-Alvarez is shedding light on this situation with regard to the toxic metal thallium: What does it mean for the environment, for agriculture and could plants even be part of the solution?

Cet article existe également en français : https://www.mysciencework.com/news/12090/science-pops-open-ep-17-des-poisons-et-des-plantes-mesurer-la-contamination-de-notre-environnement

 

When a poison contaminates our environment, not only can it pollute the soil and water, it can also be taken up by plants, rendering them—or specific parts of them—toxic. Natalia Ospina-Alvarez is working to shed light on this situation with regard to the metal thallium. This element, which is introduced into the environment mainly through mining of lead and zinc, comes in different “flavors”, with different levels of toxicity: thallium-I is, by far, the most common, but thallium-III is several thousand times more noxious. To really assess contamination levels and the danger they represent, you need to know how much of each kind is present—including in the vegetation.

 

For this, Dr. Ospina-Alvarez turned to the plant Sinapis alba, a member of the mustard family known to accumulate high levels of thallium. Since the highly toxic thallium-III is present in only trace amounts, she is developing a new method to extract it directly from the complex material of plant leaves. This technique should yield more concentrated samples of this kind of thallium, leading to more accurate measurements. This could mean better detection of thallium and other trace contaminants, and more accurate assessments of risk—for the environment and for people consuming plants grown in contaminated soil. Her work could even contribute to a solution: a clearer understanding of the way these plants accumulate thallium could let them be used in clean-up efforts to draw the poison from the soil, leaving the Earth cleaner than they found it.

More Episodes of Science Pops Open:

Ep. 1 – Your body can defend itself against cancer. It just needs a little help!, with Margot Cucchetti 

Ep. 2 – Improving outcomes of crisis and conflict, thanks to an ethnographic outlook, with Ruben Andersson

Ep. 3 – After an Earthquake, the Show Must Go On, with Anna Reggio

Ep. 4 – Disrupting the Sleeping Sickness Symphony, with Fabien Guegan

Ep. 5 – Optimizing Welfare…and Equality, with Sean Slack

Ep. 6 – Awaiting Balance in the Adolescent Brain, with Kiki Zanolie

Ep. 7 – Come Drought or High Water, with Luciano Raso

Ep. 8 – Taking European Tornadoes by Storm, with Bogdan Antonescu

Ep. 9 – Learning to Tackle Climate Change Together, with Sandrine Sidze

Ep. 10 – Nourish the Children of Urban Slums, with Sophie Goudet

Ep. 11 – In Money Matters, We're Only Human, with Jeroen Nieboer

Ep. 12 – A Depressed Sense of Smell?, with Kalliopi Apazoglou

Ep. 13 – Climate Shifts Carried on a River of Air, with Nikolaos Bakas

Ep. 14 – Something in the Air Down There, with Fulvio Amato

Ep. 15 – Foretelling a Complex Future for our Complex Ecosystems, with Phillip Staniczenko

Ep. 16 – From Childhood Illness to Innovative Antibiotics, with Agata Starosta

Ep. 18 – Voice of a storm surge, with Emiliano Renzi