Université de Montréal plant biologist Nicholas Brereton is preoccupied with the science behind phytoremediation – the way that some plants, like willow trees, can tolerate and even remove heavy metals and hydrocarbons from contaminated sites.
CIM Magazine spoke with Brereton about this multidisciplinary endeavour and the revolutionary potential of nature to inexpensively clean up soil and water.
CIM: How did you get interested in the practical applications of plants?
Brereton: I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, a city near Manchester in the UK. I got my PhD at Imperial College London, where I ran a biomass analytics facility with lots of different crops, like grasses and really fast-growing trees, which got me into looking at willows.
Later I worked at Rothamsted Research, the oldest agricultural college in the world. My work there included growing trees in sand, which is a really challenging environment that helps you understand the basics of what life needs in order to grow.
CIM: How can willow trees help clean up contaminated sites?
Brereton: We’ve got vast swathes of brownfield land across North America and the world where nothing grows, and it’s very expensive to clean up. Usually, it’s left as it is. Willows are incredibly tolerant – in numbers they can gobble up a lot of the metal in soil, and sometimes they just immobilize it. You can’t really batter them and they grow incredibly quickly.
For the rest of this article: http://magazine.cim.org/en/voices/a-remediation-idea-takes-root-en/