ACS Philadelphia 2008: Trees eat pollution

I had a slight deviation from the ACS yesterday while I finished up writing a story about trees that can absorb organic nitrates and turn them into amino acids. But seeing as in that single sentence I spotted at least four chemistry-related words, I thought this would be a good place to write about the research.

I shan’t go into loads of details, because then you might not go and read the story (and I can’t believe anyone would miss out on the chance to do that), but the news here is thus: trees, well known to gobble up inorganic nitrogen compounds, can also take up – and use, more importantly – organic nitrates that are the products of NOx emissions and the volatile organic compounds that trees spew out.

It’s not yet clear whether this mechanism might actually help to alleviate NOx pollution, and at the same time increase photosynthesis thereby locking up more carbon. If that were the case that would be a very good news story indeed. It looks more likely that this effect is dependent on local conditions. And as the author Paul Shepson told me, even if the mechanism does help clean up the atmopshere a bit, the better solution is to stop the emissions in the first place.