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April 5, 2011

Department: Biology
Professor: Dr. Van Hoewyk

As our environment becomes more and more toxic, scientists are researching ways to combat the build-up of heavy metals in nature.  One way of doing this is phytoremediation-
using plants to clean and remediate contaminated soil or groundwater.  Because this is a natural way to clean the environment of pollutants, it is necessary to study heavy metal tolerance in
plants.   Biologist Doug Van Hoewyk is CCU's resident expert in plants tolerating specific metals.  Van Hoewyk is both growing plants for research at CCU as well as engaging in ongoing research at Colorado State University using a grant funded through the National Science Foundation. 

To better understand genes and other organisms, Arabidopsis plants are grown in the lab at CCU to determine selenium tolerance.  Small trace elements are naturally occurring, while a build-up can cause toxicity.  Van Hoewyk is also looking at the Black Needlerush that is found locally in salt marshes, which can accumulate significant amounts of zinc in its roots. 

In 2010, an NSF grant allowed Dr. Van Hoewyk and a student to analyze the Black Needlerush, abundance of zinc in at a particle accelerator (or synchotron) in Berkeley, California.  They found that the zinc clusters in hot spots (not normal in other plants), indicating that different plants react to and retain zinc differently.  The anti-oxidant capacity of each plant is currently being tested to determine if this is how each plant tolerates the toxic levels of metals.

Van Hoewyk will be taking 2 CCU students to Colorado State University this summer to work in their state of the art research lab.  He will continue looking at selenium and micro-RNA's (a novel class of RNA molecules) and how they regulate gene expression.  The students will be working on their topics of interests related to how plants deal with metals in the environment.

For More Information:http://ww2.coastal.edu/dougvh/home.html

Dr. Van Hoewyk