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  • June 21, 2021

Harnessing the chemical defence of trees to treat human wastewater.

  • Space for Life, Jardin botanique
lab equipment with flasks and tubes

A new study by researchers at the University of Montreal, Jardin botanique de Montréal and Imperial College London revealed how plantations of Willow trees could environmentally treat millions of litres of wastewater through irrigation while also producing renewable bioenergy and green chemicals in a process known as sustainable biorefinery.

Canada produces over 6 trillion litres of municipal wastewater each year, over 150 billion litres of which are released untreated into pristine surface waters each year due to the cost of removing high nitrogen and contaminants. Willow trees not only tolerate contaminants in wastewater but also filter out and use nitrogen to increase biomass and bioenergy yields by over 200%.

For thousands of years willows have been used as a source of salicylic acid, the basis of aspirin. The team used advanced ‘metabolomic’ analysis to explore willow chemistry in greater depth and discovered the green chemicals which allow willow to treat wastewater in such high volumes.

What's really exciting is that the complex chemicals produced by the trees to tolerate contamination have strong bioactivity, and so are important potential targets as new medical or agricultural compounds.

Read about the study here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969721032174

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