Phytoremediation Research

at the University of Washington

What is phytoremediation?

Phytoremediation is the use of plants to clean up pollution in the environment, especially at hazardous waste sites. Plants can take up and accumulate toxic metals in their leaves where they can be disposed of easily. Organic pollutants can be taken up by plants and degraded by plant metabolic activities. The action of bacteria associated with plant roots may be useful in the control of pollutants.

Research into phytoremediation has intensified since the early 1990s. Studies at the University of Washington have led the way in understanding plant activities against important toxic compounds such as trichloroethylene (number one on the Superfund list of prevalent groundwater pollutants) and carbon tetrachloride. Recently we have begun work in the use of plants to destroy toxic compounds in munitions wastes. We continue to study the mechanisms that are responsible for pollutant degradation by plants and to develop ways to increase the usefulness of plants for phytoremediation.


Phytoremediation has been applied to or proposed for cleanup of many types of hazardous wastes, including toxic metals and man-made organic compounds.

Research at the UW

Research Leaders

Research Facilities

Everything needed for cutting-edge research in phytoremediation: Gas chromatographs, HPLCs and instruments for tracer work in the instrument room, a tissue culture room with sterile hoods for propagation, a plant growth room, and unique field test bed facilities.

Published Papers

Doty, Sharon L., et al. Enhanced Phytoremediation of Volatile Environmental Pollutants With Transgenic Trees. (2007) PNAS. 104(43) 16816-16821

In the News

Links for more information about Phytoremediation