Chinese brass ferns look simple. But Pteris vittata has superpowers: it sucks arsenic, throws toxic metals at its leaves and lives to tell its story.
It is not known that other plants or animals fulfill their ability to store heavy metals. According to a study by Current Biology on May 20, researchers have identified three genes that are very important for the accumulation of fern arsenic.
Lever ferns throw heavy metals that are often found in soil as arsenate from plant roots to shoots. There, three genes form proteins that promote arsenate coral when they travel through plant cells. In a cell compartment called a vacuole, arsenic is isolated.
A protein, GAPC1, coated with arsenic, protects it from damage when traveling. The other, OCT4, helps study the interconnected membranes, perhaps in a structure where the third protein, GSTF1, converts it to arsenite, a form conserved by plants. The discovery of genes causes plants to die when exposed to arsenic, according to Jody Banks, a botanist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, India, and colleagues.
This fern has been used to draw arsenic from the soil to the contaminated area. This “takes a long time, but is very cheap,” compared to millions of dollars that can be extracted and tidied up dirty dirt, the Bank said. In a previous study, ferns had sucked about half of arsenic in dirty soils for five years.
P. vittata is a semi-tropical plant and cannot grow anywhere throughout the year. Linking its genes to other plants, however, can cause cooler species to eliminate arsenic, according to the Bank.