New Species Of Metal-Eating Plant Discovered In The Philippines

nickel eating plantPensoft

If you ever find yourself hiking through the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, be careful not to drop any spare change...

Scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños have discovered a new plant species with an unusual lifestyle — it eats nickel for a living.

The nickel-chomping plant accumulates up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned, explained Professor Edwino Fernando, lead author of a new report published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

This amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants.

Using plants to remove environmental toxins could eventually partially replace the mechanical methods that are used today. The use of less machinery results in a reduction in the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.

The new species is called Rinorea niccolifera. Nickel hyperaccumulation is a rare phenomenon, with only 0.5 – 1 per cent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils able to soak up nickel. Throughout the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait, which is still a small proportion of the estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants.

"Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'", explained Augustine Doronila of the School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, who is also co-author of the report.

Phytoremediation refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils. Phytomining, on the other hand, is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites.