Study Finds Plants Play Larger Role in Cleansing Atmosphere

Monday - 11/1/2010, 7:42pm EDT

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado say vegetation likely plays a bigger role in cleaning the atmosphere than was even previously thought.

They used genetic studies, and computer modeling to show that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a common class of air-polluting chemicals than past studies showed. The new study was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Plants can produce a particular class of oxygenated chemicals to protect themselves from irritants and repel invaders such as insects, similar to the human body's production of white blood cells due to an infection. It turns out the chemicals have long-term impacts on the environment and human health.

Their research also shows plants can actually adjust their metabolism - absorbing more of the chemicals - as a response to various types of stress.