One final, and currently emerging, application of phytotechnology to the envi-ronmental context involves the possible use of plants in a variety of industrial sectors as pollution detectors. The aim is principally to provide valuable informa-tion about the toxicological components of contamination from a wide variety of sources, including the automotive, chemical and textile industries. Unlike biosen-sors, which tend to be designed around isolated biochemical reactions, in this approach, the plants are used as entire biological test systems. Moreover, unlike conventional chemical analytical methods which produce quantifiable, numeric measurements, the varieties used have been selected for their abilities to iden-tify contaminants by reacting to the specific effects these substances have on the plant’s vital functions. Thus, by directing the focus firmly onto the obvious and discernible biological consequences of the pollutants and then codifying this into a diagnostic tool, the assessment process is made more readily available to a wider range of those who have an interest in pollution control.
The development of this technology is still in the initial stages, but it would appear to open up the way for a controllable method to determine pollutant effects. It seems likely that they will be of particular value as early detection systems in the field, since they are functional within a broad range of pH and under varied climatic conditions. An additional benefit is that they are responsive to both long-term pollution or incidental spillages and can be applied to either laboratory or on-site investigations to monitor air, soil or water, even on turbid or coloured samples, which often cause anomalous readings with spectrophotometric test methods.