Phytotechnology and Sustainable Living

Phyto — Meaning plant in Greek. Plant-based technologies, otherwise known as Phytotechnologies, have been doing the rounds on the internet in the last few days. This has come to light in the recent past when the need for soil resurrection has gained traction and the thought of sustainable living is getting into the minds of people nowadays. Okay, what is Phytotechnology? Phytotechnology can be understood by simply splitting the word into two — viz., Phyto -Technology which means Plant Technology. It is a method where plants are used to address scientific and engineering problems. What kind of problems?

The world has seen a drastic change in its environmental conditions due to various technological advancements and the harmful effects of the improper use of resources by us. In simple words, the industrial revolution of the twentieth century and the later part of the advancements thereon have led to the planet’s ecosystem getting destabilised to a great extent. Across the globe, researchers have been on the hunt to restore normalcy to the ecosystem through various methods, both natural and artificial, for a few decades now.

While sustainable living has been widely spoken about and many people have started adopting a sustainable lifestyle, it can be one of the options for restoring normalcy to the environment. Reducing carbon footprint is what sustainable living primarily focuses on, while Phytotechnologies focus on removing contaminants, using plant-based alternatives for mining and other methods.

The big question that comes to my mind is -Can Phytotechnologies play their part in enhancing Sustainable Living? Can they go hand in hand?

To answer that question, we need to understand how Phytotechnologies work. The following are the various branches or methods of Phytotechnologies that can be adopted for applications:-

  1. Phytomining — production of a crop of a metal by growing high biomass plants that accumulate high metal concentrations. While some plants are natural accumulators i.e hyper-accumulators while many can be induced to do the same.
  2. Phytoremediation — use of plants and associated soil microbes to reduce the concentrations or toxic effects of contaminants in the environment.
  3. Phytostabilization — involves the reduction of the mobility of heavy metals in soil. Immobilization of metals can be accomplished by decreasing wind-blown dust, minimizing soil erosion, and reducing contaminant solubility or bioavailability to the food chain.
  4. Phytovolatilization — involves the uptake of contaminants by plant roots and their conversion to a gaseous state, and release into the atmosphere.
  5. Phytosequestration — the ability of plants to sequester certain contaminants in the root zone. This is accomplished through several of the plant’s physiological mechanisms
  6. Phytoextraction — a subprocess of phytoremediation in which plants remove dangerous elements or compounds from soil or water, most usually heavy metals, metals that have a high density and may be toxic to organisms even at relatively low concentrations
  7. Phytodegradation — involves the degradation of organic contaminants directly, through the release of enzymes from roots, or through metabolic activities within plant tissues.
  8. Rhizofiltration — use of plant roots to absorb, concentrate, and precipitate toxic metals from contaminated groundwater.

The list is not over yet. Phyto-technology is a topic as vast as the planet but it would be unfair for any reader to read a book in a blog. Hence, I would keep the discussion as crisp as possible. While most of these techniques have been proven to be extremely useful in the environmental restoration process, the question raises on its applicability by a commoner to his field for the same.

A few of these techniques are however a natural process but deciding the type of plants depending on the type of soil and its extensive use by a sustainable lifestyler is yet to be explored. Sustainable living has been primarily focused on reducing the carbon footprint so far and I understand the inclusion of phytotechnology as part of the sustainable farming practice is also a field that needs more exploration and exploitation.

Phytotechnologies can be combined with organic farming techniques and I strongly recommend that this should be primarily focused in cities where pollution has become a perennial issue. Through this, a gradual restoration of the polluted environment can be initiated and over the years this would result in stabilising the ecosystem. The onus now lies on the researchers who will have to look at interpolating sustainable farming practices with Phytotechnologies.

The world has seen enough exploitation of the precious natural resources that this planet had to give. I recently came across a statement in one of the movies and I quote the same here — “Soil has got a beautiful tendency of changing all the dirt into gold and hence we need to respect soil for giving us life and all that we need”

Restoration of soil and saving it for the rest of the earth’s life is an inescapable need and I appreciate movements like Save Soil and the movements organised and initiated by Sadhguru on this. This article is only the beginning of my understanding of this new technology and I would love to experiment myself in my field and publish my results for everybody’s consumption. I am definitely not an expert or a researcher but I’d love to do my own homework and share it with the people interested.

Let's save soil. Let's save the future ‘Us’!

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Vignesh Chandrasekaran

Vignesh Chandrasekaran

Writing is an art and that makes reading an art too. I read regularly and write once a month and mostly on philosophy, technology, self-help and lifestyle.