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Compound protects crops from radiation-contaminated soil

Lurking Fukushima radiation could hurt agricultural yields in Japan, as well as put consumers at serious health risk.

By
Brooks Hays
Researchers in Japan are looking into ways to protect plants from irradiated soils. File Photo by UPI/Keizo Mori
Researchers in Japan are looking into ways to protect plants from irradiated soils. File Photo by UPI/Keizo Mori | License Photo

WAKO, Japan, March 5 (UPI) -- To protect plants from radiation-contaminated soil, scientists in Japan have been testing the effects of certain synthetic compounds. Recently, researchers identified one that limits a plant's absorption of the potentially deadly elements.

It's been four years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster -- a lifetime in the fast-paced 21st century. But for slow-decaying cesium-134 and cesium-137, two of the dangerous radioisotopes that escaped and leached into the environment during the meltdown, four years is nothing.

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Cesium isotopes are water soluble and thus readily absorbed by plants. Unsurprisingly, the radioisotopes offer no nutritional benefit to their hosts, and in fact retard plant growth.

With the knowledge that lurking radiation could hurt agricultural yields in Japan, as well as put consumers at serious health risk, researchers set out to find a way to protect plants from cesium's ill effects. In doing so, they found several lab-built compounds that protected plants.

But while others enabled plants to cope with the presence of cesium, only one -- a synthetic compound called CsTolen A -- kept cesium from being absorbed by the plant.

When plants were grown in water with CsTolen A and cesium isotopes, researcher found the plants grew healthfully and that the cesium mostly remained in the aqueous solution. Quantum mechanical modeling showed that CsTolen A binds to cesium and prevents it from contaminating the plants.

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"We think our findings shed some light on the possibility of using chemicals to prevent agricultural products from being contaminated," lead researcher Eri Adams said in a press release.

The discovery is detailed online in the journal Scientific Reports.

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