20.04.2021 change 23.04.2021

Cucumbers, pumpkins and zucchini can clean soil, say scientists

Credit: Fotolia Credit: Fotolia

Plants such as cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, melon and watermelon have beneficial properties for cleaning agricultural soils without harming the environment biologists from the University of Lodz have found.

While working on an effective and safe method of soil cleaning with plants, Dr. Magdalena Urbaniak and PhD student Elżbieta Mierzejewska discovered the plants can remove persistent organic pollutants from sewage and insecticides,

Dr. Urbaniak from the UNESCO Chair on Ecohydrology and Applied Ecology said: “The ability of cucurbits to remove POPs (persistent organic pollutants) from soil has been confirmed in my previous research. Growing zucchini in soil enriched with sewage sludge for 5 weeks reduces the concentration of POPs in the soil by 37%. This translates to a reduction in overall toxicity by 68%. It is very similar in the case of cucumber plantings.”

She added: “It is possible to control how plants take up and accumulate POPs. Fungicides work perfectly in the control process. Our goal is to be able to control this process depending on the needs, and thus have a choice between the remediation function of the plant (using it to remove pollutants) or the consumption function, i.e. the production of safe vegetables that do not contain harmful substances.”

The researchers added that plants from the cucurbits family also support the process of soil remediation (removal of pollutants) by secreting many plant substances called exudates. These substances support the development of beneficial microorganisms living in the plant's root zone (the rhizosphere) and in its tissues, thus increasing the degree of bacterial degradation (biodegradation) of pollutants.

Elżbieta Mierzejewska has been working on this topic as part of her doctoral dissertation, the results of which can be used by scientists working on environmental pollution as well as practitioners: farmers, owners of large-scale farms and food producers.

The results obtained so far will be developed and supplemented during foreign research fellowships with Dr. Urbaniak working in Japan, at Kobe University, which is a leading unit in the field of plant genetics. Elżbieta Mierzejewska will conduct her part of the research at the Hasselt University (Belgium). As part of the National Science Centre's ETIUDA 7 project, she will spend six months on a research fellowship at the Centre for Environmental Sciences, which is a leading unit in research on biological methods of environmental remediation.

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