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Application of alfalfa in phytoextraction of cadmium from contaminated soil

14th national competition for scientific and technical research

Resistance of plants to pollution

Senior Researcher : José Javier Pueyo Dabad

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Research Centre or Institution : Instituto de Recursos Naturales. Centro de Ciencias Medioambientales. CSIC. Madrid.


Soils contaminated by cadmium and other heavy metals represent a serious environmental and agricultural problem. Traditional decontamination methods are normally associated with high indices of atmospheric pollution, require substantial investment and are extremely aggressive towards local flora and fauna. Phytoextraction is an emerging clean technology that uses plants to remove metals contaminants from soils. The metals are absorbed by the roots and accumulated in the aerial part of the plant, which is harvested and eliminated. Phytoextraction is, above all, an environmentally friendly and inexpensive technology, easy to use and applicable to large areas.

The main limitation of phytoextraction is the selection of appropriate plants. A plant used in phytoremediation must be capable of accumulating metals, preferably in its aerial part, have a fast growth rate and be easy to harvest. Alfalfa meets these requirements, although its cumulative capacity is limited. This project proposes analysing more than one hundred varieties of wild and cultivated alfalfa to select those with the best characteristics for use in phytoextraction. Additionally, the decontaminating capability of improved varieties produced under laboratory conditions will be verified. We also aim to identify genes and metabolic pathways involved in metal tolerance for the purpose of obtaining optimised varieties for use in soil decontamination.

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