Special Focus: EU Green Deal - Cleaning up soils with plants

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Filip Pošćić has 14 years of experience in the areas of plant metal physiology and ecology. He was happy to share with us the first outcomes of his project and to reflect on the EU Green Deal.

Filip Pošćić, in his own words

I am a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in Ute Krämer’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Physiology of Plants (Ruhr University Bochum, Germany). I am currently investigating environmental and genetic contributions to variation in leaf cadmium (Cd) and zinc (Zn) accumulation in Arabidopsis halleri populations in the field. I have 14 years of experience in the areas of plant metal physiology and ecology.

I studied at the University of Trieste (Italy) where I obtained my Master degree in 2007 on nucleotide diversity in coding and regulatory genomic regions of maize. After a research project on metal tolerance and ecological characterisation of Biscutella laevigata populations, I obtained a PhD in Ecology in 2012 at the University of Udine (Italy), with a short stay at the Free University Amsterdam (the Netherlands).

From 2012 to 2016, I worked at the University of Udine and was awarded financial support for young scientists in 2013 for research on cerium toxicity in plants.

From 2016 to 2019, I worked at the Institute for Adriatic Crops and Karst Reclamation in Split (Croatia) and at Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb (Croatia) on soil–plant interactions and nutrient deficiencies and trace element toxicity in olive trees.

In 2019, I was awarded a Marie SkłodowskaCurie Fellowship for the DyCLE project and moved to Ruhr University Bochum (Germany). The DyCLE project is funded by the European Union H2020-MSCA-IF-2018 under Grant Agreement No 845234 (DyCLE).

Currently running the last experiments of his MSCA project, Filip is looking forward to seeing the final results of his work. Our Fellow outlines his project: “metal hyperaccumulator plants accumulate extraordinarily high concentrations of metals in their leaves. Zn hyperaccumulation is a species-wide trait in Arabidopsis halleri, while Cd hyperaccumulation is population specific. In this plant, Cd hyperaccumulation is selective for the non-essential Cd (II) in the presence of a large excess of more abundant chemically similar nutrient cations in the soil solution, for example those of iron (Fe) and Zn,” he says.

Filip’s host group observed an unusually large variation in leaf Cd concentrations within few Arabidopsis halleri populations growing on non-contaminated (non-metalliferous) soils. “The objective of my project (‘Dynamics of Cadmium concentrations in Leaves in response to a challenging Environment’) is to understand how this variation arises and whether it is a result of evolutionary adaptation,” he adds.

“We have only one planet and we need to protect our Earth”

Like many researchers, Filip follows with attention the decisions of the European Commission and the Parliament, and especially those about the environment, like the EU Green Deal.

“We have only one planet and we need to protect our Earth. Therefore, I approve the efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, preserve biodiversity and achieve economic growth not tied to resource use. Reaching climate neutrality by 2050 remains so far a dream,” explains Filip. According to him, more concrete actions are necessary and more countries need to be involved.

“Research has always been at the heart of the development of human society”

To reach the objectives of the EU Green Deal, the role of researchers is key. “Research has always been at the heart of the development of human society. Every fundamental step for humans started from a little research, from a little idea. I can’t fully say why my research is necessary for the future, but I know it is a fundamental piece in increasing human knowledge,” muses Filip.

In the framework of his research, Filip found that some plants such as Arabidopsis halleri and Noccaea caerulescens could be used to clean up soils contaminated with toxic metals such as Cd, lead (Pb), nickel (Ni) and Zn (popularly known as heavy metals). These plants accumulate extraordinarily high concentrations of toxic metals in their leaves and are known as hyperaccumulators. Since the aforementioned plants are very small, however, the research is focused on genes involved in metal accumulation. The expression of these genes could be enhanced in high-biomass crops in order to make the plant-based clean-up (phytoremediation) of metal-contaminated soils more effective.

“Phytoremediation could help in minimising soil erosion, water, and soil pollution, increasing biodiversity and protecting animal and human health. Phytoremediation could also be much eco-friendlier and cost effective compared to mechanical removal,” explains our Fellow.

To ensure the implementation of the Green Deal’s objectives, Filip emphasises the role of the scientific community in communication in tackling emotional-based decisions. “We need to start spreading scientific facts and a positive attitude toward scientism. We first need to give practical positive examples by ourselves,” he concludes.

Aurélia Chaise
MCAA Editorial Team

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