University of Maryland Scientists Develop New Fungus-Based Method to Remove Mercury Contamination from Soil and Waste

Crops, Credit: Wikimedia/Tomasz Sienicki

Mercury has always played a part in the contamination of soil and water. From Minamata disease in Japan to loss of marine life, the toxic effects of mercury are plain to be seen. Scientists at the University of Maryland have devised a new method to remove mercury from the soil around plant roots and water. They employed a fungus called Metarhizium robertsii in their attempt. The fungus is easy to acquire, cheap, and efficient. The main aim of the experiment was to stop plants from taking up mercury present in the soil.

When a crop is planted in polluted soil, it can take up toxic substances from the soil. If it is a food crop, eating parts of the contaminated plant would pass on the toxic chemicals to human bodies. With the help of this fungus, a plant can grow normally in polluted soil without taking up any mercury. The genetic make-up of the fungus, along with the observation that it survives in mercury mines, is proof that it can detoxify mercury. The fungus can also guard plant roots against herbivorous insects.