This process applies to remediation and restoration of soils contaminated by fuel, polychlorinated biphenyl wastes, etc. While there can be a general beneficial effect of microbial communities, individual plant-fungus combinations can vary in their efficacy in removal of pollutants from the environment. Selection of the most effective combination of plants and fungi is very important for achieving the desired benefits. Not all fungi are created equal, as some die off in contaminated soils. Having a set of enzymes from fungi specifically adapted to conditions in contaminated soils and use of native plant/fungal combinations is a huge advantage. Ectomycorrhizal (EM) mediated remediation of phenolic-based contamination through use of specifically adapted soil and enzymes utilizes plant/fungal combinations that are specifically adapted to conditions created by phenolic application to soils, and the abilities of EM fungi to oxidize these compounds. This platform can be adapted to other ecosystems through field assessments of the EM community in each new site.

The technology builds on the existing notion that establishment of trees in contaminated soils can be enhanced through the use of EM fungi. The fungi impart resistance to soil extremes such as high temperature, high acidity, and heavy metal contamination. The process takes advantage of the ability of native fungi to upregulate enzyme genes in response to changes in host physiological conditions, and hence enhance natural phenolic oxidation in soils up to fivefold. EM fungi in the genera Russula and Piloderma react with positive growth responses to phenolic-based soil contamination. The activities of enzymes that oxidize these compounds increase fivefold when the host tree is partially defoliated, which in turn imparts an increase in phenolic oxidation in soils by a similar amount. Defoliation is done by pine needle removal, where 50% of the needles are removed. This defoliation is performed each year on new growth to maintain defoliation.

This remediation process using native plant/fungal combinations has a fast response, enables high selectivity, and is cost-effective and low-maintenance. It can be used for environmental remediation, phytoremediation, enzymatic bioremediation, cleanup of soil contamination by spills of solvents (including diesel fuels), habitat restoration, and land remediation.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact the Technology Partnerships Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: here .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2017 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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