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A. Plants Used to Detoxify the Environment

Narrator: This is Science Today. One of the newer tools researchers are using to clean up polluted soil and groundwater is plants. The process is called phytoremediation and works in coordination with bacteria or fungi around plant roots to form a detoxing network of sorts. Thomas Wood of the University of California, Irvine, is working on a way to genetically engineer bacteria to carry an enzyme that degrades the toxic solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE.

Wood: Our idea is to engineer bacteria that will hang out in the rhizophere, which is the area around the plant roots and the plant will feed those bacteria, so you don't have to add any nutrients at all. You also don't have to dig up the soil to treat the soil. The bacteria just continuously make this enzyme to get through trichloroethylene.

Narrator: Like others in this field, Wood has long-term goals for this process.

Wood: What we'd really like to do now is grow trees and take advantage of the bacteria that colonize tree roots to get rid of trichloroethylene. The tree we're shooting for is the poplar tree, since it has roots that basically go from the surface down to the groundwater.

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