Researchers develop pollution-busting plants to clean up contaminated land

Jan 23, 2006

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

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

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

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

Professor Bruce said: "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.

"We are using an enzyme already existing in the soil but putting it into a more efficient machine to biodegrade the RDX. It is a sustainable, low maintenance and low cost process which has the potential to clean up large areas of land in military training ranges or industrial sites."

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, including aspen and poplar, and perennial grasses.

The technique can also be used to modify plants to resist other organic pollutants.

Source: University of York

Explore further: Ancient Greek well yields rare wooden statue

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA Soil Moisture Mapper arrives at launch site

Oct 16, 2014

A NASA spacecraft designed to track Earth's water in one of its most important, but least recognized forms—soil moisture—now is at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to begin final preparations for ...

What do wildfires have to do with climate change?

Oct 14, 2014

As the western U.S. faces its third year of severe drought, firefighters are still battling two large fires in California. The state, which is experiencing its worst drought since record keeping began in ...

Fires dot the Ukraine countryside

Oct 14, 2014

Numerous fires (marked with red dots) are burning in the Ukraine, likely as a result of regional agricultural practices. The body of water at the lower left of this true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging ...

Mars One: MIT study team looks before mankind leaps

Oct 14, 2014

Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation which has a mission to establish a human settlement on Mars. Starting in 2024, Mars One intends to set up a permanent human settlement on Mars. Crews of four will depart ...

Recommended for you

US state reaches deal to keep dinosaur mummy

9 hours ago

North Dakota reached a $3 million deal to keep a rare fossil of a duckbilled dinosaur on display at the state's heritage center, where it will serve as a cornerstone for the facility's $51 million expansion, officials said ...

Jerusalem stone may answer Jewish revolt questions

12 hours ago

Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they have discovered a large stone with Latin engravings that lends credence to the theory that the reason Jews revolted against Roman rule nearly 2,000 ago was because ...

Kung fu stegosaur

12 hours ago

Stegosaurs might be portrayed as lumbering plant eaters, but they were lethal fighters when necessary, according to paleontologists who have uncovered new evidence of a casualty of stegosaurian combat. The ...

User comments : 0