To determine how Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi can improve the restoration of degraded and heavy metal contaminated agricultural soils and limit metal uptake into food crops. CoRenewal Board Member Danielle Stevenson aims to develop accessible methods for farmers to reduce heavy metal uptake in crops and thereby reduce exposure to toxic elements.
Soil pollution with heavy metals is a serious worldwide environmental problem particularly affecting agriculture. The continued increase of heavy metals in soil through industrial emissions, application of biosolids, phosphate fertilizers, and irrigation with wastewater poses a health risk to humans and other living organisms, particularly through the food chain and contaminated drinking water. Metals do not degrade and thus persist and accumulate in soils. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are root-associated plant symbionts forming relationships with 90% of all plants and are naturally occurring in almost all habitats and climates, though few persist in industrially impacted soils. AMF reintroduction has been found to improve plant health, reduce synthetic fertilizer and water inputs and increase plant resilience to drought while increasing soil carbon sequestration. Some AMF are adapted to heavy metal toxicity and are promising candidates for applications that not only enhance the phytoremediation of heavy metal contaminated soils, but also inhibit metal uptake into food crops. The mechanisms and environmental parameters through which this occurs are not well understood. Therefore, further research is needed into this potential strategy to address heavy metal contamination before this approach can be widely employed by farmers and practitioners of phytoremediation.