Scientists produce new generation of 'green' pollution-busters (10/17/2007)
Scientists at the University of York have discovered a new way of using plants to clean up contaminated land. They have engineered plants using genes from micro-organisms encoding enzymes that break down toxic and carcinogenic explosives.
A research team from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), led by Professor Neil Bruce, has identified a unique bacterial enzyme system that degrades RDX, the most widely used explosive, previously thought to be resistant to biological degradation. The research is published in the latest edition of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Decades of military activity on training ranges have resulted in pollution of both land and groundwater with explosives. The use of live ammunition has already been restricted by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) at a military training area in Massachusetts because of the threat of RDX in the water supplies of nearby communities.
With funding from the US Department of Defense, the CNAP team has been researching ways of using plants to degrade these explosives on US military sites. Plants expressing these bacterial genes become highly efficient remediation 'machines', able to degrade efficiently the RDX present in soil and water.
Professor Bruce said: "We have characterised a novel enzyme system that, when deployed in plants, rapidly breaks down RDX, representing a significant advance on our previous work. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Washington, one of our Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) partners, we are now developing a low-cost, sustainable technology using native grass species to clean up military training ranges and industrial sites. These low-maintenance remediation methods could potentially be applied to other pollutants such as chlorinated solvents
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the University of York