Wisconsin Fast Plants Network

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  Two of my students won 1st place in the Western Ct. State Fair. They competed against over 60 other projects in this part of our state. They one 1st place in juniors Bio.

Their title was "Get the Lead Out!- Can plants be used to extract or absorb
 lead from soil?"

 They took soil samples from heavy traffic areas that might have lots of lead
 in the soil from years of leaded gasoline use (highways, exit ramps, major
roads and gas stations) and used a lead testing kit for soil to pick the
 most contaminated sample.  They planted seeds from brassica, beans, and dill
 to see if they could detect any lead in the plants after 2 weeks or if they
 could see a decrease in the lead they had planted the seeds in.  They then
 tried to quantitate this by using an assay they found with lettuce seeds
 where you grow the seeds in Petri dishes with a plant or soil extract and
 look at the growth of the lettuce seedling roots.  Apparently leaf lettuce
seeds are very sensitive to lead contaminants and will not grow well.
 They didn't see any positive results from the lead test kits or lettuce seed
 bioassay, so it either wasn't sensitive enough, the plants didn't grow
 enough, they were the wrong kind of seeds, or you needed more plants per
 pot. One article they found suggested that mustard weed should have worked.
 Anyway, they followed the whole thing through with appropriate controls, and
 they were very thorough and understood it all, so it was a great learning
 experience for them.  They came up with the idea based on the folks that had
 tried to clean up the mercury/arsenic in the soil in Danbury by planting
 genetically engineered cottonwood trees.

These two students were sisters of two winners using the plants 3 years ago!
Jim Backus
Danbury Ct.

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Hello, Jim,

Congratulations to you and your students for their 1st place Fast Plants research project in the Western CT Science Fair. I'm thinking that you've been an active Fast Plants teacher for about 17 years now and it is terrific that new research ideas continue to come out of your classroom.

Paul Williams is very interested in the students' research and results and he wanted to respond to the question/observation about using mustard seed. As you know, the Fast Plants your students were using is Brassica rapa. The plants referred to in the research article concerning heavy metal uptake were Brassica juncea. Brassica juncea is mustard and it grows all over the world. Mustard seed is available from most garden catalogues. Of course, mustard greens are in the fresh vegetable section of grocery stores and the dejeon mustard on grocery store shelves is also Brassica juncea. [See the original article on rapid-cycling Brassicas on the Fast Plants web site, www.fastplants.org, from Science, June, 1986 for a complete listing of the brassica species.]

If the students wanted to pursue their research further, they could use regular mustard seed (as long as they didn't need it to be flowering at the same time as the Fast Plants, Brassica rapa. Alternatively, they could get rapid-cycling Brassica juncea through the Rabid Cycling Brassica Collection (RCBC) by going to our web site.

Good luck and please continue to keep in touch.

Coe Williams
Thanks .. somehow I think its longer then 17 years. But who is counting.

I will share this info with the students you posted.

Here is a picture of the poster they made




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