Skip navigation
E. Using Plants to Get Rid of Toxins

Narrator: This is Science Today. For years, trichloroethylene (or TCE), a chemical widely used in industry as a degreasing agent or solvent, was disposed of directly into the soil. As a result, there are literally thousands of sites contaminated with this toxic compound. Thomas Wood, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Irvine, has been working with genes that enable bacteria to degrade TCE.

Wood: We first thought it would be best to strip the trichloroethylene out of the soil by passing air through the soil and treat the trichloroethylene that was removed from the soil in this air stream in an above ground reactor.

Narrator: This was too expensive, so the researchers are using plant roots as the reactor system. This has proved a more popular move.

Wood: Because this is the probably least expensive way to remediate these kinds of compounds. People are familiar with bacteria in terms of septic tanks and they're very accustomed to seeing bacteria get rid of waste and so they're much more likely to welcome this kind of a system versus something like incineration.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.