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TNT Soon to Be Remedied from Plant Roots

Sep 04, 2015 01:25 PM EDT
Explosives Being Used to Clear Boulders
It turns out that plants face stress in areas where explosives were used for manufacturing or military uses. Since toxins are left behind in roots, plants are unable to grow and develop as efficiently.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Land contaminated by explosives used for manufacturing or military uses may soon be remedied, thanks to biologists from the University of York. According to a news release, researchers recently discovered the mechanisms behind TNT toxicity in plants, which has become a wide-spread pollutant over the last 100 years.

So exactly what effect does this toxin have on biological systems? TNT affects the diversity of soil microbial communities and vegetation growth, since it remains in plants' roots and inhibits development. According to the release, with the high demand for military explosives, there are 10 million hectares of military land contaminated with fallout from explosives in the U.S. alone.

"There is a lot of interest in natural mechanisms for the removal of recalcitrant toxic chemicals from 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," Neil Bruce, professor from the University of York and lead researcher said in the release.

The researchers studied a plant-specific enzyme known as MDHAR6. This enzyme reacts with TNT and generates something called a superoxide, which causes severe damage to cells. They found that when mutant plants lack this enzyme, they have a higher tolerance for TNT.

So what does this mean? Scientists are able to target this enzyme in relevant plant species and potentially produce plants resistant to this toxin. Remediation of contaminated lands, such as military areas, could then be possible.

"Only by eliminating the acute phytotoxicity of TNT can plant-based systems be successfully used to clean-up contaminated sites. Our work is an important step on that journey," Dr. Liz Rylott, a co-leader of the study, explained in the release. 

Their research was recently published in the journal Science.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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