Pollution-eating poplar trees will be planted at an Indiana hazardous waste site in a test of the bioremediation power of transgenic plants.
Bio-remediation is the cleaning up of pollutants with living things. Genetic modification is making it a reality. The poplars, developed by Purdue University researchers, will be planted at the Chrysler LLC Peter's Pond hazardous waste site, which is contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE. The trees' makers claim the poplars break down the pollutant into harmless constituents.
Cleanups of this kind would otherwise rely on pumping and treating groundwater, or injecting substances into the ground to speed up the degradation of the contaminants. In either case, the process is long and expensive. Bioremediation holds the promise of restoring polluted properties to usefulness faster, with less expense, and in a more aesthetically pleasing way.
A gene is added to the trees that codes for an enzyme that can break down TCE and other common pollutants. The trees are planted and just growing does the work of cleansing the environment. TCE, an industrial solvent, is among the most common hazardous wastes found at Superfund sites around the country. It has been linked to cancer, birth defects and a variety of other health problems, most recently Parkinson's Disease.
The use of genetically engineered plants has raised alarm among many people, though it's nearly impossible now to find corn or soy in common foods that hasn't been grown with genetically modified seeds. The poplar trees will be removed before they reach maturity and might reproduce, thereby preventing the altered genes from escaping into the wild.
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