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​New species of metal eating plant uncovered

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A new species of plant that absorbs heavy metals has been discovered in the Philippines.

The plant, dubbed Rinorea niccolifera, has been found to have accumulate nickel, up to 18 000 ppm, without being poisoned, according to PenSoft.

The discovery is a rare one, with only around 450 species of plant known worldwide to be hyperaccumulators of metals.

According to Dr. Marilyn Quimado, one of the lead researchers on the team, the plant was found in the western part of Luzon Island, in the Philippines, in an area known for its abundance of heavy metals in the soil.

"Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'," Dr. Augustine Doronila, from University of Melbourne School and a co-author of the report, explained.

The use of hyperaccumlators has a long and storied history in mining.

Previously plants known thrive in soils with heavy metals were used to uncover metal deposits.

The technique has been recorded as being used in China since the 5th century BC, and in fact Sweden's former Viscaria copper mine was actually named after the Viscaria aplina flower which prospectors used to discover the deposit, as the flower is known to grow in soils with heavy copper concentrations.

Australian natives such as Stackhouse tyronii and ­Hybanthus floribundus can also be used as lead and nickel indicators due to their hyperaccumulator ability,  according to The Lead Group and to research carried out by CQ University professor Nanjappa Ashwatha and Dr. Poonam Bhatia.

In fact "Stackhousia try­onii is a serpentine-endemic, rare, native Australian plant and is reported to hyperaccumulate nickel up to 55,500 mg g-1 on a dry weight basis," the group explained.

The CSIRO's Ravi Anand has studied geo­botany and mining for some time in conjunction with the University of Adelaide, and explained that his group has studied eucalyptus trees and mulgas for mineralisation in their leaves.

Late last year it was also reported that native eucalypts were thriving around the highly acidic decommissioned Mt Morgan gold mine, near Rockhampton, and highlighted the potential for the plants to be used in mine site remediation.

"Seedlings were growing in highly acidic soil where the pH shouldn't support them, and they are thriving," Councillor Neil Fisher said.

"On the very edge of the water, 300-400 eucalypt seedlings are growing where plants normally would have died."

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