Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vetiver Shows Promise for Removing Antibiotics from Water

What goes in must come out, and when animals are given antibiotics, they can find their way into the water supply. Now, a Michigan Tech senior has identified one way to sop them up.

Antibiotics, like many pharmaceuticals, pass through the digestive tract largely unchanged. The resulting drug-laden waste from farms and feedlots (or for that matter, apartments and subdivisions) may be treated, but conventional methods don’t break down excreted antibiotics.

Although the concentrations are small, probably not enough to have an immediate effect on anyone drinking a cup of water, scientists fear that releasing antibiotics indiscriminately into the environment encourages the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and make it harder to treat deadly infectious diseases, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“There are also problems with using this contaminated waste to fertilize crops, or the water to irrigate,” says Stephanie Smith, who graduates in May with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Working with Rupali Datta, an associate professor of biological sciences, Smith designed an experiment using sterile Vetiver to address the issue.

Vetiver is a native of India often grown in constructed wetlands to cleanse wastewater. It is both vigorous and noninvasive, and has been used to clean up some tough customers, including TNT.

Smith grew Vetiver hydroponically in a greenhouse, exposing the plants to various concentrations of tetracycline and monensin, two antibiotics commonly used to treat dairy cattle. “We wanted to see if the Vetiver would uptake them, because if you give these antibiotics to cows, 70 percent is excreted in active form,” Smith says. “We worry that they’ll leach into the groundwater, get into drinking water and compound the problem of antibiotic resistance.”

At the end of the 12-week study, all of the tetracycline and nearly all (95.5%) of the monensin had disappeared from the hydroponic solution. Tests confirmed that the Vetiver had absorbed and metabolized both drugs into its tissue. The result)s are preliminary, says Smith, but they show that Vetiver holds promise for remediating antibiotics in wastewater.

Smith also recorded a peculiar side effect. “The Vetiver in the tetracycline solution grew faster, much faster than the controls,” she says. “The plants in monensin grew somewhat faster.”
Next, the plants will be analyzed to determine what ultimately happens to the antibiotics within the plant tissue.

Smith’s research project was supported by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, funded by Michigan Tech.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lyza and Karen say, "Vetiver works!"

In every movement, a time comes when "the word" becomes part of the lexicon, a time that it needs no introduction. We're not there--yet. However, glimmers of hope appear. In Hawaii, we're finally meeting people who can pronounce "Vetiver" and, in some cases, even enthusiastically relate how it can help our environment.

This week two separate bloggers embraced Vetiver--for different reasons. Thank you, Lyza Danger Gardner (lyza.com) and Karen Caplan(whatsonkarensplate.blogspot.com). Their abbreviated narratives follow.
By Lyza:


Vetiver’s present in nearly 90% of Western perfumes and its aroma is a complex weave of smoke, earth, wood, secrets, calm, nuance, and sap. The fragrance has almost no edges; in its distilled form, it’s a viscous, amber syrup that you could almost put on pancakes.

The grass is native to India and related to lemongrass, and seems calibrated to the current needs of our world. It’s grown widely in Haiti, India, and Indonesia for the perfume markets of the world, but its other talents are promoted by organizations like The Vetiver Network International.

Vetiver forms the basis of the “Vetiver System,” an interplay of the plant’s unique characteristics with its environment. It provides excellent erosion control, is easy to grow, doesn’t mind toxins like heavy metals or weird algae or phosporus blooms and, by dint of its way of propagation, is non-invasive and easily controlled.

Aromatic essential oil is distilled from its roots, which grow 12-15 feet nearly straight down and control erosion. Oil from roots 18 to 24 months old is highly prized. Like other complex and wonderful smells in the world, Vetiver oil is made up of 100 or more components. One of its most prominent is Terpinen-4-ol, a terpene shared with tea tree and nutmeg oils.

While the antiseptic effects of tea tree oil have been widely tested and documented, recent research has shown that the anti-inflammatory effect of Terpinen-4-ol may also suppress tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a primary antagonist in Crohn’s Disease.

By Karen:

Mudslides, Fires and Vetiver Grass

Mudslides. Fires. It seems as if Southern California experiences these plagues every year. And this year was no exception. We had terrible fires in the fall and, as our rainy season arrive, many areas in the South experienced flash flood warnings.

My most dramatic memory was after my mother and I drove back from Palm Springs to Orange County. A few days after our trip, the news reported that the very transition road we had traveled, from Highway 60 to Highway 57, was closed due to mudslides caused by heavy rains, saturated soil and fire damage.

All I could think of was, “Why aren't they planting Vetiver grass?”

What is Vetiver, you ask? According to my friends Noel Vietmeyer and Mark Dafforn of the National Research Council, this little-known tropical grass is relatively cheap and effective at preventing soil erosion. When planted in lines along the contours of slopes, Vetiver quickly forms narrow but very dense hedges. Its stiff foliage then blocks the passage of soil and debris, and slows any runoff, giving the rain a better chance of soaking into the soil instead of rushing off the slope.

Remember the horrific 2005 mudslide in La Conchita, California (near Santa Barbara), in which ten people died when an entire mountainside collapsed on top of their homes? Well, that location was also home to the only banana plantation in the western United States – Seaside Banana Gardens. (Before the 2005 disaster, a 1995 mudslide had knocked out most of this plantation.) Fortunately, the grower, Doug Richardson, only lost his bananas – he and his family were spared.

Doug still grows bananas, however, and a few years ago he wrote us about the success of his Vetiver planting (and more exotic bananas).

So, if I had a wish, it would be that someone reading this blog would pass along this information to the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Sunset Magazine and others, and that Vetiver would get great publicity and be planted all around Southern California so we'll NEVER have to worry about mudslides again.

So, please pass along this information…and I’ll keep you informed about how this message spreads!