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Plants vs Explosives

Copyright: University of York

Pollution from explosives can pose a risk to both the environment and public health, so it is vitally important that cost-effective ways of dealing with it are found. One way could be to use plants.

Research carried out by Professor Neil Bruce at University of York used genetic modification to combine the characteristics of certain bacteria, which are able to detoxify different types of explosives, with the larger mass and higher processing ability of plants.

This result is efficient pollution biodegrading plants which are capable of extracting explosive waste that has been left in the land after war or military training. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that some 10 million hectares of military land is contaminated with munitions constituents.

The plants can extract TNT and RDX from soil and water. These two explosives, which are some of the most widely used in munitions, are classified as highly toxic.


The research was supported by BBSRC and won him runner-up position in BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year competition.

You can read more about this work in our case study: Plants help clean up explosive-contaminated land

In recent research, Professor Bruce’s team in University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) has unravelled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants raising the possibility of a new approach to explosives remediation technology. They found that mutant plants lacking an enzyme, previously implicated in protecting plants from stress, have an enhanced TNT tolerance. By targeting this enzyme in relevant plant species, it may be possible to produce TNT resistant plants to revegetate and remediate explosives at contaminated sites, such as military ranges and manufacturing waste sites.

You can read more about it on University of York website.

For more information, see: Plant science.


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