Native Prairie Plants in Phytoremediation: Sucesses, Limitations, and Knowledge Gaps

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Jay Woosaree
Brij Verma
Byron James
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Phytoremediation, the use of plants to remove, degrade or stabilize sites contaminated with organic or toxic chemicals is gaining in popularity as an alternative and economical technique in environmental remediation. Interactions between plants and microorganisms are the primary mechanism for petrochemical degradation in phytoremediation. Phytoremedial planning must take these interactions into account so that remedial efforts are successful and economical. As the chemical profile of a site changes, the plants growing on the site may also change. Plants growing presently on a 20 year old contaminated site may not be ideal for reclamation of a site contaminated 5 years ago. It is proposed that sites be identified and graded according to the chemical profile of the contaminants, age of contamination, and native plants growing on the different sites. This will ensure that in the future an ideal native plant seed mixes can be planted according to the nature and age of the site. Hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms from a contaminated site will be isolated, grown in the laboratory and re-introduced to the same contaminated site for remediation. This approach utilizes indigenous microbial communities thereby increasing the likelihood of success since microbes from another site may not be as adapted to the site being remediated. Several genera of microorganisms in the root zone or rhizosphere of plants are able to trigger plant growth promotion (PGP). If plants inoculated with PGP can thrive this will lead to increased plant biomass, enhanced microbial communities in the rhizosphere thereby increasing contaminant mineralization. It is proposed that PGP organisms be isolated from plants of contaminated sites, screened in the laboratory and then introduced in a reclamation experiment with native prairie plants.