Arsenic-Absorbing Fern Offers Solution to Pollution UF Research Finds No Ill Effect on Plant

Article excerpt

A common fern has been found to soak up extraordinary amounts of arsenic without any ill effects, potentially offering a natural way of cleaning up polluted soil and water.

The plant, known as the brake fern, grows naturally in the Southeast and California.

"It looks lush green," said Lena Ma, a soil chemist who led the research at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "When I take people to my greenhouse to look at a fern with 8,000 parts per million of arsenic, they can't imagine it's toxic waste."

The brake fern, whose scientific name is Pteris vittata, is the first plant known to accumulate arsenic in extremely high concentrations and still flourish, scientists said. The discovery was reported in today's issue of the journal Nature.

A crystalline chemical, arsenic is one of the best-known poisons.

Arsenic taints many sources of drinking water in the United States and abroad. People who drink arsenic-contaminated water over long periods are thought to run a higher risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer, as well as other heart and lung ailments.

Some arsenic is naturally present in soil. It also comes from some farm chemicals, wood preservatives and other industrial products.

Ma said that, unlike many ferns, this one likes the sun. It could potentially be cultivated in water and act as a natural arsenic filter. …