02. 12. 2016

Heavy metals in plants, living organisms and in the environment. This currently highly topical research will be performed by top-ranking German scientist Hendrik Küpper and his team at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences (BC CAS) in Ceske Budejovice. After two years under limited financial conditions, professor Küpper now won a generous grant in the amount of CZK 131.7 million from the Operational Programme Science, research, education, for his research project "Metals, plants, people" and can thus fully concentrate on research work that will bring knowledge used in agriculture, environmental protection and health safety.

With the new grant Professor Küpper obtained 131.7 million CZK for research until 2022. Approximately CZK 60 million of this amount will be used to purchase special equipment. One of the most expensive devices, an ICP-MS Spectrometer for measuring ultra-low concentrations of metals, will become the heart of a new Ultratrace analysis Lab. The laboratory will be open to cooperation with researchers, government and industrial companies. This is assumed to increase the interest in the analysis of metals in various areas of biological research, and thus the lab will have a great impact in the region beyond the research of the Biology Centre.

"It is a good feeling, because now we can really do the research and expand the team and equipment according to our original plans," says Hendrik Küpper.

The research is generally focused on metals acting on plants. Plants absorb metals such as copper, chromium, cadmium, iron, manganese, rare earths, zinc or the metalloid arsenic from the environment, because many of these metals are needed for the proper functioning of cells. Animals and humans both require these elements, so that the metal content in plants is essential for all human nutrition. However, at the same time, already very small concentrations above the requirement of these elements may become toxic and cause serious environmental and health problems.

Küpper´s team research the metabolism of metals, i.e. how plants absorb metals, how they transport, store and use metals, and how they deal with deficiency and toxicity of metals. In the future, the scientific results may contribute to more effective environmental risks estimates as well as to improvements in agriculture (better targeted fertilization and crop breeding) and last but not least, phytoremediation, ie. the technologies that use living plants to clean up the polluted soil and water resources contaminated with toxic metals. Knowledge of the biochemical and biophysical mechanisms in plants will also help to understand the function of metals in other organisms, including humans.

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