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Pollution-busting plants clean up contaminated land.

Scientists at the University of York in the United Kingdom have played a crucial role in developing a way of using plants to clean up land contaminated by explosives.

The research, led by Neil Bruce in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the University's Department of Biology, uses micro-organisms found in soil to turn trees and plants into highly-effective pollution busters.

Decades of military activity have resulted in pollution of land and ground-water by explosives resistant to biological degradation. Large tracts of land used for military training, particularly in the United States, are contaminated by RDX, one of the most widely-used explosives, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic.

The six-strong CNAP team has isolated a bacterial micro-organism in the soil in contaminated land that can utilize the explosives as a source of nitrogen for growth. But, because RDX is so mobile in soil, the bacteria present cannot degrade it quickly enough to stop the contamination of land and ground water. So the research team has redeployed the enzyme in the bacteria into plants, giving them the ability to biodegrade the pollutant more efficiently.

Bruce says, "We have taken that activity from the bacteria and put it in plants with large amounts of biomass. A tree, for instance, is effectively a big pump seeking out water, and if we can redeploy the enzyme which degrades the explosive making it harmless, it combines the capabilities of soil bacteria with the high biomass and uptake properties in plants."

So far, the research has involved redeploying the enzyme into a model plant system--Arabidopsis thaliana--but in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, the CNAP team are now extending the technique to robust plants species such as trees and perennial grasses. The technique can also be used to modify plants to resist other organic pollutants.

For more information, contact Bruce, 44-01904 328777.

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Title Annotation:Update
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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