New Metal-Eating Plant Found in the Philippines

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London:  Scientists have discovered a new plant species in the Philippines with an unusual lifestyle - it eats nickel for a living.

The plant can accumulate up to 18,000 ppm (parts per million) of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned. Such an amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants.

The new species, discovered by scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, is called Rinorea niccolifera, reflecting its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts.

Nickel hyperaccumulation is a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5-1 per cent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability, researchers said.

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.

The new species, according to Dr Marilyn Quimado, one of the lead scientists of the research team, was discovered on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, an area known for soils rich in heavy metals.

"Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'," said Dr 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.

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