The studies, conducted by scientists from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University and the Marine Science Center at Northeastern University, were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The findings may have important implications for seafood safety, since some of the marine organisms most at risk from these toxins are marine invertebrates such as clams, shrimp, oysters or crab that tend to "bioaccumulate" them. One possibility, the researchers say, might be to plant appropriate seaweeds as a protective buffer around areas being used in aquaculture.
"We found that certain red seaweeds had an intrinsic ability to detoxify TNT that was 5-10 times faster than any known terrestrial plant," said Greg Rorrer, a professor of chemical engineering at OSU. "Marine seaweeds have a more efficient uptake mechanism than even terrestrial aquatic plants to at least neutralize organic pollutants."
The researchers call this process "phycoremediation," derived from phykos, a Greek word for seaweed.
The studies, which are supported by the Office of Naval Research and the Oregon Sea Grant Program, are of particular interest in the case of trinitrotoluene, or TNT, because of unexploded bombs or military shells found in some places around the world's oceans. There is a general concern these shells could potentially corrode.
"It's important to know how corals, fisheries and plant life might respond to exposure to TNT or other toxins," Rorrer said.
The study is looking at not just TNT, which is commonly found in munitions, but at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, such as nap
Contact: Greg Rorrer
Oregon State University