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: Researchers discover low-grade nonwoven cotton picks up 50 times own weight of oil

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fire ecology manipulation by California native cultures

Jul 26, 2014

Before the colonial era, 100,000s of people lived on the land now called California, and many of their cultures manipulated fire to control the availability of plants they used for food, fuel, tools, and ritual. Contemporary ...

Kudzu can release soil carbon, accelerate global warming

Jul 01, 2014

Clemson University scientists are shedding new light on how invasion by exotic plant species affects the ability of soil to store greenhouse gases. The research could have far-reaching implications for how ...

Fecal transplants let packrats eat poison

Jul 21, 2014

Woodrats lost their ability to eat toxic creosote bushes after antibiotics killed their gut microbes. Woodrats that never ate the plants were able to do so after receiving fecal transplants with microbes ...

Recommended for you

Shrinking dinosaurs evolved into flying birds (w/ Video)

4 hours ago

A new study involving scientists from the University of Southampton has revealed how massive, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs evolved into agile flying birds: they just kept shrinking and shrinking, ...

Congressional rift over environment influences public

8 hours ago

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Rural loss and ruin can be avoided

10 hours ago

An Australian Reconstruction Development Board needs to be established to help avoid more needless forcing of Australian farmers from their land, a QUT economist has said.

User comments : 0