Hemp is a bioaccumulator — it tends to absorb heavy metals from soil, leaving the ground clean by collecting contaminants in its body. When intended for human consumption, this is obviously a problem. But as a means for cleansing land of industrial toxins, hemp is quite promising. Chinese scientists recently published their research on hemp’s biological reaction to lead in the soil. They examined how cells in two hemp varietals responded to high levels of lead, comparing a lead-sensitive fiber-type plant to a lead-tolerant seed-type plant. Both plants were affected by lead in the soil, changing the expression of roughly 300-400 proteins. The common changes altered the plants’ generation of energy, worsened their assimilation of raw materials (like carbon and nitrogen), and altered the breakdown of damaged proteins. But the hardy hemp variety was less affected than the lead-sensitive one — 6x fewer proteins were altered in the lead-resistant plant than the more sensitive strain. These results shed some light on the adaptations required for cannabis to successfully tolerate contaminated soil.
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