Using biotechnology to fight pollution is the challenge for a European Union research project. Under the spotlight – a specific kind of moss.
At the University of Freiburg in Germany, a team of biologists is growing moss, in a controlled environment.
Mosses are especially well suited as bio-indicators for airborne contaminants as they have no roots and a very high surface-to-mass ratio.
Eva Decker, of the university’s Faculty of Biology, explained: “We use moss, because, by mass, it has a huge surface area. You can see all the structures and it can clean the dirt particles out of the air. Moss has shoots or spores, and from one of these spores you can grow a new plant. And using these spores we started to cultivate new plants in the laboratory.”
Monitoring the levels of nitrogen and sulphur oxides, as sell as airborne heavy metals like cadmium, lead and nickel, is hard to achieve with existing technologies as they are either imprecise or very expensive.
One innovation is the cultivation of huge amounts of a peat moss under controlled laboratory conditions.
Ralf Reski, at the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg told euronews: “We not only reduce the plant’s genetic variability to the smallest possible level – one single genetic clone – but also through controlling conditions in the moss bio-reactor we can guarantee that the level of pollution in the moss, as well as its growth, are always identical. And you cannot obtain this consistency with material you have just collected from nature.”