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Natural Arsenic Fighter Created

Genetically engineered plants remove pollution from soil

MONDAY, Oct. 7, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- American scientists have developed the first transgenic system that uses genetically modified plants to clean up arsenic pollution in soil to protect the environment and human health.

According to a study just published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers, led by University of Georgia scientist Richard Meagher, inserted two genes from the common bacterium Escherichia coli into a plant called Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family.

The E. coli genes let Arabidopsis tolerate arsenic, which normally kills the plant. The genetically engineered Arabidopsis can remove the arsenic from the soil and store the poison in its leaves.

When the plants are harvested, most of the arsenic is removed from the site.

"Our data demonstrate the first significant increase in arsenic tolerance and what we call 'hyperaccumulation' by genetically engineered plants. This new system is a major step in developing methods of cleaning up the environment using plants," Meagher says.

Arsenic pollution is a serious problem around the world. For example, it's estimated that more than 112 million people suffer various levels of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has information about arsenic and drinking water.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Oct. 6, 2002
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