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Moss detects Air Pollution
03 April 2012
EU-Project develops peat moss as novel biological indicator
Since 1996 the European Union requests from their member states a continuous monitoring of air pollution. This requirement was tightened in 2008 with an EU directive to monitor not only nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides but also airborne heavy metals like cadmium, lead and nickel. This is hard to achieve with existing technologies as they are either imprecise or very expensive.
Biologists around Professor Ralf Reski, Chair for Plant Biotechnology at the University of Freiburg, Germany, are part of a consortium that has been granted 3.5 million Euro for three years by the EU within their initiative “Eco-Innovations!”. The consortium named “MOSSCLONE” consists of five academic partners and five small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and aims at developing a novel, precise and inexpensive method to monitor air contamination, especially by heavy metals. The partners of MOSSCLONE are situated in Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Ireland. The SMEs will contribute another approx. one million Euro from their own resources to this project.
Living plants are already in use as biological indicators as they take up and accumulate pollutants. Mosses are especially well suited as bio-indicators for airborne pollution as they have no roots and a very high surface-to-mass ratio. One foreseen innovation in MOSSCLONE is the cultivation of huge amounts of a peat moss under controlled laboratory conditions. Subsequently, these moss plants will be inactivated and the surface structures will be transferred to air-permeable bags under fabrication conditions. These moss-bags will be displayed in monitoring stations at a variety of different European locations and be assessed with regard to their capability to accumulate pollutants from the air. „We will combine methods from molecular biology and material sciences with those from ecology and bionics “, says Ralf Reski, who is currently Senior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). The scientists hope that their moss-bags will be used in the whole of Europe as monitors for environmental pollution in the near future.