Say hello to Rinorea niccolifera, described in the open-access journal PhytoKeys. The leaves of the plant are special. Like a few other plants around the world, R. niccolifera is a ‘hypernickelophore’. In simple English, if you were to examine a gramme of a dry leaf, 7,168 to 18,388 μg would be Nickel. That’s around 1%. The discoverers, Edwino S. Fernando, Marilyn O. Quimado and Augustine I. Doronila note that’s around the same as Rinorea bengalensis which shows that Rinorea has pretty much worked out how to live in high-Nickel environoments.
That’s interesting, not so much for where the plants are, but for where they could be. Phytomining and phytoremediation are ideas that plants could be used to mine or clean polluted areas by accumulating metals. The plants draw up the metals into the leaves and then you harvest and extract them, till an area is cleaned up.
It’s not going to happen overnight, you can’t simply drop these plants into trouble spots and leave them to work. There’ll need to be careful breeding or genetic modification, but recent research on Alysseae shows that metal-tolerance is something plants can pick up or drop as they need. Other research shows that calcium could be a problem for plants picking up cobalt and nickel, but adding some sulphur to a site could help fix that.
Usually when people think of plant technology, it’s about crop growing or pharmaceutical applications. There’s also potential for plants to take over some industrial processes. Somewhere in the genes of Rinorea is a potential gold mine. (If you plant it over gold)
Fernando E., Quimado M. & Doronila A. (2014). Rinorea niccolifera (Violaceae), a new, nickel-hyperaccumulating species from Luzon Island, Philippines, PhytoKeys, 37 1–13. DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.37.7136
Cecchi L., Gabbrielli R., Arnetoli M., Gonnelli C., Hasko A. & Selvi F. (2010). Evolutionary lineages of nickel hyperaccumulation and systematics in European Alysseae (Brassicaceae): evidence from nrDNA sequence data, Annals of Botany, 106 (5) 751–767. DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcq162
Robinson B. Soil Amendments Affecting Nickel and Cobalt Uptake by Berkheya coddii: Potential Use for Phytomining and Phytoremediation, Annals of Botany, 84 (6) 689–694. DOI: 10.1006/anbo.1999.0970
Rinorea niccolifera. Photo by Dr. Edwino S. Fernando. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by licence.