Nov 122013
 

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Work to unlock potential of plant life

The many uses of abundant but overlooked plants – from killing slugs to treating athlete’s foot – are being investigated by scientists at Bangor University.

Research into plant-based alternatives to products and ingredients currently derived from crude oil has found that ivy is just one of a range of plants with plenty of untapped potential.

Ivy, which grows abundantly in Wales, is being investigated by Bangor University’s BioComposites Centre at an Anglesey biorefinery for the fine chemicals and other valuable extracts and fibres which it contains.

The focus of the centre’s work is on finding new uses for valuable natural resources which are currently either completely ignored or thrown away.

Scientists have found that ivy could provide a number of extracts which could be used in areas ranging from personal products such as shampoo to horticulture and the food industry.

Development chemist Dr Dave Preskett said: “We’re not making the most of ivy; the plant has great potential.

“We’ve used ivy extract as a slug killer in place of slug pellets. Trials using it as a fungicide to treat potato blight – in place of oil-derived chemical sprays –  proved very effective in protecting crops. The same extract also has great potential to be developed in products for treating dandruff and athlete’s foot. An oil produced from the berries is edible as, contrary to popular belief, ivy is not poisonous and has all the health-giving properties of olive oil but the more solid consistency of butter or lard.”

The centre provides the basic investigation into the compounds found in different plants and how they can be used, and also conducts specific contracted work for individual companies.

The new source of materials could also provide vital rural employment opportunities through local processing facilities known as biorefineries.

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