The group Enviromental Biology has a longstanding experience (since 1976) in the field of heavy metal uptake by plants, the effects of toxic metal concentrations on plants and the transfer of metals to the food chain. The group was involved in several projects concerning the zinc, cadmium and lead contamination in the region Balen, Lommel, Overpelt in the the zinc smelter contaminated area in the north-east of Belgium. They started with laboratory and in situ studies on phytoremediation (phytostabilization and phytoextraction) of heavy metal contaminated soils in 1985 and is involved in several national and international projects and collaborations in this field. Phytoremediation of organics also belongs to the research area of the group, especially on nitroaromatics, oils and BTEX. Special attention is paid to the interaction between plants and plant-associated micro-organisms (mycorrhiza and bacteria).
Biological tests for the evaluation of soil toxicity were developed. These activities are practical applications based on the fundamental research program of the laboratory. The latter is concentrated on the (eco-)physiological, cellular and molecular effects and sequence of events after application of pollutants to plants and mycorrhiza. Studies of defence and tolerance mechanisms against heavy metals are also part of the fundamental research program. Special attention is paid to subcellular localisation of both contaminants and defence systems. This research program is performed on several plant species, from which certain species are genetically transformed.