Modified Plants May Fight Pollution from Explosives with TNT Tolerance

First Posted: Sep 04, 2015 06:49 AM EDT

There may be a new way to clean millions of acres of land contaminated by explosives: plants. Biologists believe that they may be able to create a plant that can help "soak up" TNT with enhanced TNT tolerance.

In this latest study, the researchers unraveled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants. This, in turn, raises the possibility of a new approach to explosives remediation technology.

TNT has a significant impact on the diversity of soil microbial communities and the establishment of vegetation. The majority of TNT remains in the roots of plants, where it inhibits growth and development. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that some 10 million hectares of military land is contaminated with munitions constituents.

In this latest study, the researchers found that mutant plants lacking a key plant enzyme, MDHAR6, actually have an enhanced TNT tolerance. By targeting this enzyme in relevant plant species, it may actually be possible to produce TNT resistant plants to revegetate and remediate explosives at contaminated sites.

"There is a lot of interest in natural mechanisms for the removal of recalcitrant toxic chemicals form the biosphere and because of the scale of explosives pollution, particularly on military training ranges, the remediation of polluted land and water as a result of military activity is a pressing global issue," said Neil Bruce, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings could be huge for cleaning up contaminated sites in the future.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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