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   Genetic Engineering to Clean Our Environment?
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   Author  Topic: Genetic Engineering to Clean Our Environment?  (Read 1478 times)
torporchair
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Genetic Engineering to Clean Our Environment?
« on: Apr 1st, 2008, 1:28pm »
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Salted away in an old file folder I found a story from the Associated Press printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer July 4, 2005. The story is titled Tweaking Plants' Genes to Clean Up Polluted Sites. Somewhere in my education an erudite teacher learned me that in order to make felt hats, you gotta' use mercury, and that prolonged exposure to mercury in the making of felt hats is where the expression "mad as a hatter" comes from.  
 
This bit of knowledge was helpful in understanding the lead to the story mentioned above: "On the site of a former hat factory in Danbury, Connecticut, a stand of genetically altered Cottonwood Trees sucks mercury from the contaminated soil."
 
The article also tells of "transgenic" Indian mustard plants used to soak up high levels of selenium from the ground.
 
The thought that immediately comes to my mercurial, hatter-mad mind is, what happens to the mercury that these trees pull from the ground? Does it become part of the tree (in which case the tress, when they reach a certain size, could be cut down {other trees having been planted to take their places} and the mercury-laced wood disposed of however mercury is safely disposed of), or does it flow into the air along with the oxygen the tree emits?  
 
I am hugely encouraged to read stories like this, since they show me that my fellow Human Beings are attacking the problems of pollution with energetic creativity. I just wonder whether all of these efforts are well-informed. For instance, wind power, which requires that a percentage of the population see huge wind turbines (about as aesthetic as high tension power line towers) on some of their favorite wind-swept hills, and inevitably a number of turbines will be placed in otherwise untouched lands where folks seek solace and an escape from man-made structures. And this is all well and good except that from what Mitakeet tells me, these wind turbines are not all they cranked up to be! The efficiency of these turbines is questionable, per Mitakeet. He usually knows about these things. So this wind turbine thing, which I thought was the best thing since sliced bread, turns out to be a flop.
 
Salt-Core Nuclear Power Plants appear to be the absolute best way to go. Emphasis on Salt-Based, not on Nuclear. As soon as I hear "nuclear power" I have visions of Chernobyl. But the Salt-Core Reactor is totally different and magnificently safer. And I mean that. It would be a way to save us from the coal fired nightmare we have now for generating power. But the word "nuclear" has become the reflex hammer of the mind, causing an immediate knee-jerk neurotransmitter shout of "NO!"
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Re: Genetic Engineering to Clean Our Environment?
« Reply #1 on: Apr 1st, 2008, 4:17pm »
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The mercury would be bound up in the plant's biomass (i.e., tree trunk), not released to the air.  However, the plant biomass might need to be treated as hazardous waste afterward and putting such into the ground and covering it up is also a really bad idea.
 
In parallel with the idea of extracting 'bad' materials, there is also the idea of extracting 'good' materials (the process is exactly the same; even in the case of mercury, 'bad' or 'good' is in the eye of the beholder (i.e., if it costs me less to get my mercury from a tree than from any other source, it is a 'good' thing)).  I believe I have the knowledge and skills to be able to design proteins that will bind to such heavy metals and allow for economic retrieval.  Of course, it costs a few grand to do the research and being research the outcome is far from certain, but cleaning up mine water (which is often saturated with heavy metals) could not only get pay for treating the water but also be able to sell the metals collected.  So many ideas, so little money to invest in them!
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