Using biotechnology to fight pollution is the challenge for a European Union research project. Under the spotlight – a specific kind of moss.
At the University of Freiburg in Germany, a team of biologists is growing moss, in a controlled environment. Mosses are especially well suited as bio-indicators for airborne contaminants as they have no roots and a very high surface-to-mass ratio.
Eva Decker, of the university’s Faculty of Biology, explained: “We use moss, because, by mass, it has a huge surface area. You can see all the structures and it can clean the dirt particles out of the air. Moss has shoots or spores, and from one of these spores you can grow a new plant. And using these spores we started to cultivate new plants in the laboratory.”
The moss plants are transferred to air-permeable bags, then moved to monitoring stations at a variety of different European locations where they absorb pollutants from the air.
This approach, combining molecular biology and material sciences with ecology and bionics, could be, in the future, extended to other critical environmental contexts.