Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, the Department of Biology at the University of York

Engineering plants to recover metals from our environment

Host:L. Donaldson

Gold nanoparticles (Au-NPs), synthesised through chemical processes, find extensive utility as catalysts in various industrial applications. Interestingly, plants have the natural ability to accumulate gold in the form of nanoparticles within their tissues when exposed to this element. This plant-derived material can be effectively utilised in the development of catalysts derived from biomass.

Laboratory experiments have demonstrated that by introducing specific, short peptides (around 10 amino acids in length) into solutions, we can exert precise control over the size and shape of these nanoparticles. These factors can be finely tuned to optimise catalysts for various industrial processes. Introducing these peptides into the model plant species, Arabidopsis, allows us to regulate the diameter of nanoparticles within the plant itself, consequently influencing catalytic performance in the resulting pyrolysed biomass.

Leveraging Au-rich biomass in this manner holds the potential to make economically viable the use of plants for remediating and stabilising mining waste, particularly those rich in precious elements like gold. Consequently, this study, using gold as an exemplar, represents a significant step towards engineering plants for the sustainable recovery of finite, technologically critical elements from our environment.


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